Guest Post by Trace Hentz
My thanks to Dean for the invite to write about the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls epidemic (MMIWG), an issue currently affecting Indigenous people in Canada and the United States, including the First Nations, Inuit, Métis and Native American communities. It’s described as a Canadian national crisis. It is unclear exactly how many missing cases there are in Canada.
When I began work as a reporter at News From Indian Country* in 1996, there was not much reporting concerning missing and murdered (Indigenous) (Native) women and girls even though we knew it was happening. Disappearances consistently made headlines in Canada, but rarely in the US. According to a 2014 Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) report, by 1980 more than 1,200 Indigenous women and girls had gone missing or been murdered in Canada. The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) worked for more than four decades to document the systemic violence impacting Indigenous women, girls, their families, and communities.
Forty years? Why so little attention or mention? No data collecting? No teams of detectives and FBI or RCMP forensic scientists?
Lots of people go missing?
Stories and numbers vary widely. Not all MMIWG victims were murdered by boyfriends. Not all the women were prostitutes. Not all were victims of sex trafficking. Could there be more than one serial killer?
Remember it’s not hundreds, it is thousands! One glaring thing stood out: most of these women were full blood, in terms of the “bloodlines,” sovereignty and treaty rights. Something was happening on such a large scale they named a road in British Columbia, “The Highway of Tears.”
On December 8, 2015, the Canadian government announced an independent National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls. It was appearing to be a new genocide.
In 2015, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau finally made an important announcement: https://youtu.be/fmM744rCQhc
2016: Amnesty International responds to launch of National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (It is almost twelve years since Amnesty International launched our Stolen Sisters report, documenting the role of long entrenched discrimination in putting shocking numbers of Indigenous women and girls in harm’s way. The REPORT: https://www.amnesty.ca/blog/stolen-sisters-northeast-british-columbia)
In 2018 the National MMIWG said, “We want Canada to understand the breadth and depth of this national tragedy.” Plans to present its final report will take place June 3, 2019 in Gatineau, Quebec. The report comes after 24 hearings and statement gathering events across Canada in 2017 and 2018.*
*The report is being translated into French, and numerous Indigenous languages, such as Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun, and the executive summary will be available in Dene, Gitxsan, Innu-aimun, James Bay Cree, Mi’kmaq, Michif, Mohawk, Oji-Cree, Ojibway, Plains Cree, Shuswap, French, English, Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun. According to a news release, their final report was granted additional time “due to an obligation to achieve the highest quality of translation.” The final report will include the experiences of 1,484 family members and survivors of violence and 83 experts, knowledge keepers and officials, and 819 people who shared their experiences through artistic expressions.
When a woman or girl goes missing, the entire future of their tribal community is affected. These women will not become future leaders and mothers and grandmothers.
* There were only two national Native newspapers in the 1990s in the USA: News From Indian Country and Indian Country Today.
Caption: The Missing Women Inquiry began on October 11, 2011 to find answers as to why the Vancouver Police Dept. and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) failed to work together to find an answer to why over 65 Vancouver women, and 18 women from the Highway of Tears have disappeared in British Columbia over the past 40 years.
In essence, these women and girls are being hunted.
Who is hunting them?
May 15, 2019
MMIWG IN THE USA
Does the United States need an inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls? Anchorage had the third-highest number of missing and murdered indigenous women among 71 U.S. cities surveyed. The state of Alaska ranked fourth overall in the United States. New Mexico ranked number one for the highest number of MMIW cases with 78.
On May 14 2019, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed into law a bill to create a task force that will investigate and gather data about missing and murdered Indigenous women in Arizona.
Ducey tweeted that he was proud to sign House Bill 2570, adding, “the crisis of missing and murdered and indigenous women and girls must be addressed.”
April Ignacio, chairwoman of the Arizona Democratic Party’s Native American Cactus and a member of Indivisible Tohono, got involved in the movement when she began investigating cases on her own. She’s been working to get the bill passed.
“It feels really good to have the bill signed, but now it is time to get to work,” Ignacio said.
The bill recognizes the work a lot of people have been doing for years — even decades.
For Debbie Nez Manuel, another backer of the bill, the journey started when her 35-year-old mother, Frances Tsinajinnie, went missing in 1973. Manuel was 3 years old.
Manuel’s mother was killed; her body found the same year she went missing.
Manuel said she has spent her life wondering how many other women would go missing before the issue was recognized.
“Today, at least we have a law,” Manuel said.
Ignacio said having the bill signed opens a lot of doors to investigate why this is an epidemic.
“There is so much that is possible now that we have the state recognizing that there is a problem and that they are willing to take a seat at the table to solve it,” Ignacio said.
An investigative committee
The law calls for the creation of a task force made up of tribal government members, victim advocates, tribal police, social workers, Indian Health Services leaders, and more. Representatives will be appointed by officials from different areas of government and advocacy groups.
Ignacio said the group is expected to form in July 2019. They will conduct a comprehensive study to gather data, and inform future decisions for how the state and local jurisdictions can work to reduce and end violence against indigenous women and girls in Arizona.
A limited amount of data is available on the number of missing and murdered indigenous women in the U.S. because of the lack of data collection on this issue. Standardized methods for tracking and collecting data for these cases will also be established by the committee.
Data now on these cases is limited and scattered.
“Once we collect data, we might see that the issue is much bigger than Arizona,” Debbie Nez Manuel said. Arizona has the third highest number of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in the country, according to a 2017 study from the Urban Indian Health Institute. That study recorded a total of 506 known cases in 71 urban cities across the country. Fifty-four cases exist in Arizona, 31 of those in Tucson.
April Ignacio hopes the law will pave the way for tribal leaders and police departments to create more accountability for investigating murdered and missing Indigenous women cases.
“I really want to be mindful moving forward that there is a lot of layers that are involved,” she said. The Violence Against Women Act still needs to be re-authorized on a federal level, she said. “You can’t have one without the other.”
But for today, both women said the Arizona law is a major step forward.
“It is very meaningful for the families and tribes that continue to have missing members,” Manuel said.
When Ignacio started to look through her data, she realized this has been going on for more than 50 years. One of her oldest cases is from 1968.
Source: AZ Central: Group gathers to remember missing, murdered Indigenous women
A new US 2019 MMIW database will log cases of missing and murdered indigenous women, girls, and two spirit people, from 1900 to the present: https://www.arctictoday.com/does-the-united-states-need-an-inquiry-into-murdered-and-missing-indigenous-women-and-girls/
Additional news coverage on my writing blog: https://laratracehentz.wordpress.com/2019/04/29/the-seeds-have-been-planted-mmiwg/
Trace Hentz is an award winning journalist and the author of the book series Lost Children of the Indian Adoption Projects. Her e:mail is: firstname.lastname@example.org. Her author blog: https://blog.tracehentz.com/