Reprinted from the March Network page 1 & 3
Indigenous women have gone missing or been murdered at an alarming rate across the United States. Only about 11 percent of students out of the 253 surveyed in the February/March Survey felt informed about the status of missing Native American women in the U.S., yet this issue seems to be the beginning of an epidemic.
The U.S. Department of Justice reported that Native American women face murder rates ten times greater than the national average. Native American women are also more likely to be victims of violence than non-native women. Nebraska has the seventh highest amount of missing indigenous women nationwide, according to the Urban Indian Health Institute.
Thelma Whitewater secretary of the Winnebago Tribal Council feels that the police are not doing enough to prevent and solve these cases on their own reservation and others. “From our perspective it’s by the color of our skin that we are targeted by violence by the police and by others. So, when these missing reports are made there’s not much done by the police,” Whitewater said.
In 2016, the Justice Department found that only 116 out of the 5,712 cases of missing and murdered indigenous women had been logged.
Many Native American activist groups have decided to take a stand against their local and national governments for failing to report missing indigenous women and being slow to take action after reports have been made. In Nebraska, many wore red to advocate for this issue at the annual Women’s March in 2019 and Omaha community members held an “Invisible No More March” in the same year.
Whitewater claims that a big issue is the presence of “man camps” near the reservation where oil pipeline workers live. “There’s oil pipelines by the reservation that have what are called man camps and there are a lot of women and children missing around these camps. They [the workers] do a lot of drinking and target women and children from the reservation. It’s hard for our tribe officers to go into these camps and do searches,” Whitewater said.
“There is human trafficking on the reservation,” Whitewater added. This is an issue that has been occurring since colonizers first came to America according to Whitewater. “This goes back in history from the beginning, when the white men came. There were a lot of women and children that were taking to Spain a part of human trafficking back then,” Whitewater said.
Whitewater does appreciate the communication between the Winnebago tribe and the highway patrol. “We meet with highway patrol officers and they keep us updated on what’s going on,” Whitewater said.
The Winnebago tribe has tried to raise awareness for the issue on and off of the reservation. “We have awareness here. We work with the state and different agencies that bring awareness to the community. Some are going into the school’s and talking about these things, as in what to watch for,” Whitewater said.
Bringing attention to the topic is only the first step in trying to solve the issue. Deb Haaland, the first Native American woman in the House of Representatives, is starting to push for government action by introducing multiple pieces of legislation to address the crisis. She has drawn up many bills such as the “Not Invisible Act of 2019” which was made by herself and three other tribal members, Tom Cole, Sharice Davids, and Markwayne Mullin.
The bill proposes to make a committee of representatives “comprised of law enforcement, tribal leaders, federal partners, and service providers survivors to make recommendations to the Department of Interior and Department of Justice ” according to a press release by Haaland in May of 2019. It also seeks to “improve law enforcement combatting the epidemic of missing persons, murder, and trafficking of Native Americans and Alaska Natives.” Haaland’s proposed legislation has yet to be passed.
In November of 2019, the Department of Justice drew up a plan to try to address the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women but the plan was a let down according to a press release given by Haaland. She claimed that it did not give enough funding to tribes across the U.S. and that tribal leaders were not included enough in the discussion.
“Our needs are more awareness, prevention, and communication between the federal, state and other tribal agencies, including congress, senators, and their reporting agencies,” Whitewater said.