Trigger warning: homicide, missing persons, racism.
In the past year, the UIHI (Urban Indian Health Institute) has published amazing research regarding violence toward Indigenous and Alaska Native women in their “Our Bodies, Our Stories” series. Their report on MMIWG (missing and murdered idigenous women and girls) cases in urban areas, specifically, is one of the most comprehensive to come out in the USA. In my effort to raise awareness for this issue, specifically in the Seattle area, I will try to give just a small glimpse of this study’s findings.
The study was specifically regarding missing and murdered indigenous women, girls, LGBT+, and Two Spirit people in urban settings, but to shorten, I will refer to these cases as MMIWG. UIHI first prefaces, the National Crime Information Center reported 5,712 MMIWG in 2016, but the Department of Justice databases only reported only 16 (2% of the Crime Information Center’s figure). The UIHI says that,
reasons for the lack of quality data include underreporting, racial misclassification, poor relationships between law enforcement and American Indian and Alaska Native communities, poor record-keeping protocols, institutional racism in the media, and a lack of substantive relationships between journalists and American Indian and Alaska Native communities.
The institute’s data was collected from 71 cities, most west of the Mississippi River. The 506 cases UIHI covered, were collected from, not only police law enforcement records and databases, but also social and traditional media, communities, and family members. UIHI also stressed that, due to limited resources and poor data collection by cities, this study is an underrepresentation of the MMIWG out there.
The study highlighted media reporting, MMIWG by area, the role of law enforcement, and UIHI’s own issues obtaining the data. One fifth of the data was not found in police reports and 25.3% of law enforcement agencies either failed to provide data before the cut-off date or refused to provide data at all. UIHI identified the Southwest, Northern Plains, Pacific Northwest, Alaska, and California as regions with the most MMIWG cases in the country. Around 75% of MMIWG cases were never covered in the media.
Washington, specifically, was featured heavily: Washington has the second most MMIWG and Seattle has the most out of any urban area. Seattle was also brought up because of its history of racially misclassifying indigenous people. SPD’s homicide unit told the UIHI that they have used the letter “N” for “Negro” originally to classify African Americans from the 60s through the early 80s, but, at times, it was also used “N” to classify Native Americans. So the UIHI is not fully sure how many murdered indigenous people there actually are in SPD’s records.
In the conclusion of their report, UIHI calls for more funding for MMIWG research, the ability for tribal nations to advocate for their citizens when harmed, and for bills like Savannah’s Act (a bill introduced in early 2019, aimed to better handle MMIWG and collect data) to call for change within areas that are not under federal jurisdiction, as well. As a large contributor to MMIWG and being a wealthy city, Seattle needs to back research and create real political change to keep indigenous people safe within our city. We can no longer afford to ignore the disappearances of these people–as many have said–in life, in the media, and in the data.
Here are some ways to support MMWG: