Advocates are stepping up awareness for missing and murdered Indigenous women (MMIW) and girls, but even with efforts in South Dakota and at the federal level, a key group said gaps still exist, including prevention.
In recent years, May 5 has served as a day to honor victims, but in 2021, organizers launched an action week.
Justice Department data show murder rates for Native American women are more than 10 times the national average.
Paula Julian, senior policy specialist for the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, said there are a lot of underlying factors, including lack of access to legal aid and shelters.
“Because we understand that MMIW is part of the spectrum of violence, where there aren’t services, then we see that there is a greater likelihood that women will go missing or be murdered because they have nowhere to turn to for help,” Julian explained.
South Dakota recently approved a specialized office to help find missing Native women and girls.
Julian acknowledged it all helps, but argued it shouldn’t just center around data collection and case assistance. She cited the need for restoring more tribal authority to investigate, on top of reducing resource disparities.
According to state data, roughly 70% of South Dakota’s missing-persons cases involve Indigenous people.
Julian pointed out economic conditions on many reservations around the state open the door to dangerous situations, including human trafficking.
“Not only do you have tribal communities in South Dakota that experience some of the highest rates of poverty and resource disparity, but you see the related rates of violence against women,” Julian observed.
The Resource Center said there are fewer than 60 tribally created or Native-centered domestic violence shelters around the U.S.
Despite the gaps, advocates stressed there’s hope, including a new shelter planned for the Rosebud Reservation. Led by a local woman who secured CARES Act funding to make it happen, the facility is geared toward teen girls who are victims of sexual violence.