Violence against women is a growing concern in North America, particularly in regards to minority and LGBTQ groups. There has been growing media support for indigenous populations in the United States and Canada. However, decades of disproportionate murder and abduction rates among native women point to an unsettling trend of underlying disdain against the North American natives.
Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took the first steps to deliver on his 2015 campaign promise to strengthen indigenous rights in the Great White North. This reaffirmation came on the heels of the establishment of the National Inquiry Into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
The inquiry, implemented this past September, was set to “explore the root causes of the violence [against First Nation women], including the role of institutions like the police and child welfare services.”
However, poor framework coupled with a lack of care on the part of some law enforcement officials has led to a faltering endeavor.
Warren Silver, an analyst with the Statistics Canada agency, sums up the issue by saying, “We don’t have data on missing women. It’s not a crime to be missing.”
This sentiment is more pronounced in the U.S., where an estimated 5,712 native women went missing in 2016 alone. Annita Lucchesi, a doctoral student at the University of Lethbridge in Canada, set out to create her own database of missing and murdered indigenous women following the disappearance of a former student.
“I would venture a guess that if we did have the data, it would show that native women are more disproportionately represented,” Lucchesi told NPR.
This hypothesis is corroborated by an NIJ-funded study, which found an estimated 39.8 percent of native women experienced some sort of physical or psychological violence in 2015, compared to the national average of 23.3 percent. However, a larger number of violent crimes against this ethnic group go unresolved despite being reported more frequently than any other demographic in the U.S.
Calls for action have not gone unheard. In the U.S., the October 2017 introduction of S. 1942 – Savana’s Act – in the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs promised to be the first step in bringing about a resolution to the issue with active engagement by the Federal government. Unfortunately, nothing concerning the bill has occurred since its introduction.
Lucchesi points to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which lacks proper access to local records. Without a standing requirement to file national level reports of violent crimes or abductions unless the victim is a juvenile, many native women can simply go missing unnoticed. The data is just not there.
“And really, it’s not just data,” she says. “That’s someone’s relative that’s collecting dust somewhere and no one is being held accountable to remember or honor the violence that was perpetrated against her.”
A representative from the Department of Justice could not be reached for comment concerning this issue.
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