Mel Rising Dawn Cordeiro
The data is alarming: Since 2016, 5,712 cases have been reported of missing Native American and Alaskan Native women and girls. Oddly, The U.S. Department of Justice’s missing persons database only has reports of 116. Most of the women who are listed as “missing” are, in fact, not missing, but have been murdered by non-Native people on Native-owned land.
It is obvious that there is a severe lack of communication between the federal government and tribal law enforcement offices. This is one of the reasons investigations into these murders and missing person cases are difficult, née, impossible at times.
Being an Indigenous woman is not easy. The fact of the matter is that we are at a greater risk for murder, ten times higher in fact, than our Caucasian counterparts. More than four out of five of us have experienced violence, in addition to about half of us experiencing physical abuse and stalking. Also counter to our Anglo-American female counterparts, we are 1.7 times more likely to experience violence and twice as likely to be raped in our lifetime.
Women and girls of all ages and all Nations go missing daily. What is most disturbing is the common theme among the crimes. Oftentimes, no motive can be found and it can be assumed that the motive is racial.
This is not just a problem in America, either. The Indigenous people of Canada feel this as well. Considering that the Indigenous peoples technically do not have borders, this issue is huge not only in the amount of women and families affected, but by the territories affected.
May 5, 2009 saw the White House officially proclaiming a National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls. For the Indigenous, this became a day of remembrance for us as well. Often nicknamed “Red Dress Day,” Natives will wear red, due to the intertribal teaching that Spirits are more likely to see the color red, and will drum and sing in honor of these women. To the Spirits of the missing, wearing red will help guide them home to their families and Nations.
Executive Order 13898, aka Operation Lady Justice, was also passed in 2019. This legislation created a task force to address the missing and murdered peoples, as well as the general concerns of the Native communities when it comes to data collection, policies and investigative processes. Operation Lady Justice also established cold-case teams.
In addition, Savanna’s Act was passed in 2020. Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind was a member of the Spirit Lake Nation in North Dakota. In 2017, her body was found by a group of kayakers in the Red River, which is near the North Dakota and Minnesota border. She was 22 years old and was about eight months pregnant. It was later discovered that she was murdered by a neighbor.
As a way to remember Savanna, this bill was passed. Now, the Department of Justice is required to strengthen training, coordination, data collection and other guidelines as they relate to cases pertaining to Native Americans in general.
The Not Invisible Act of 2019 was also passed in October of 2020 and aimed to complement Savanna’s Act. The purpose of this bill is to identify and combat violent crimes within Native lands and crimes against Natives through the creation of a joint commission task force. This task force, composed of rival leaders, tribal law enforcement agencies, federal partners and social providers to help condemn and fight these crimes.
Last year, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, who is a Laguna Pueblo Native, announced the formation of the Missing and Murdered Unit. This unit will assist in focusing on analyzing and solving the missing and murdered cases of not just Native women, but of the Native children who fell victim to the residential schools as well.
All of these tasks forces and bills have passed, and while it takes time to see results, for those families still waiting, it is too long to wait. As Natives, we are taught not just to respect our women in general, but to revere them. They are our life givers, our first teachers. They need to be protected, as do women in general, at all costs. Women are sacred.