Indigenous communities across the American Southwest, top government officials, family members and advocates are gathering Wednesday as part of a call to action to address the ongoing problem of violence against Indigenous women and children, reports the Associated Press.
U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Native American to lead a U.S. cabinet agency, cited studies and federal statistics that show at least 1,500 Native Americans and Alaska Natives are missing and Native women are at an increased risk of violence. While federal figures show that Indigenous women — along with non-Hispanic Black women — have experienced the highest homicide rates, an Associated Press investigation in 2018 found that nobody knows the precise number of cases of missing and murdered Native Americans nationwide because many go unreported, others aren’t well documented, and no government database specifically tracks them.
Over the past year, advocacy groups report that cases of domestic violence against Indigenous women and children and instances of sexual assault increased as nonprofit groups and social workers struggled to meet the added challenges stemming from the coronavirus pandemic.
In response, President Joe Biden promised to bolster resources to address the crisis and better consult with tribes to hold perpetrators accountable and keep communities safe. Haaland said that includes more staffing in a U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs unit dedicated to solving cold cases and coordinating with Mexico and Canada to combat human trafficking. Advocates have said a lack of resources and complex jurisdictional issues have exacerbated efforts to locate those who are missing and solve other crimes in Indian Country.
They also have pointed to the need for more culturally appropriate services. However, the Biden administration has made some progress by increasing staffing at the Bureau of Indian Affairs unit from a team of 10 to more than 20 officers and special agents with administrative and support staff it previously didn’t have and distributing funding under the American Rescue Plan Act, including $60 million for public safety and law enforcement in Indian Country.
A task force made up of the Interior Department, the Justice Department and other federal agencies to address violent crime in Indian Country is also in the works. Haaland said success would be measured by solving cold cases.
Additional Reading: Task Force Set to Probe Missing and Murdered Native Americans
Editor’s Note: Last month, scholars and tribal leaders, including Alfred Lopez Urbina, Attorney General of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe; Addie Rolnick, UNLV School of Law; Lauren van Schilfgaarde, Director of the Tribal Legal Development Clinic at the San Manuel Band of Missions, participated in a panel organized by the Center on Media, Crime and Justice on tribal justice issues. Watch the panel on YouTube here.