MISSING AND MURDERED INDIGENOUS WOMEN, GIRLS, AND TWO-SPIRIT (MMIWG2S)

Overview

In 2016 there were 5,712 incidents reported of Missing or Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirit. However, only 116 of those cases were recorded in the Department of Justice database.

In a survey of 71 U.S. cities completed by the Urban Indian Health Institute, they identified 506 MMIWG2S cases, and found that 153 of those were missing from any sort of law enforcement records.

There is a serious lack of attention and care for this issue from law enforcement, as it is clear that many cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women go without reporting or investigation. Police departments neglect to take these cases as seriously as they should, but there are resources to help and a growing movement in support of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirit.

Historical Trauma

The colonization of the Indigenous populations in North America began in the 17th century. Driven by the prospects of land, European settlers flooded into America, claiming Indigenous land for their own.

European colonization had many detrimental impacts on the Indigenous population. On their arrival, European settlers introduced new infectious diseases to the Indigenous populations who had yet to gain immunity from them. These diseases eventually killed nearly 90% of the Indigenous population. Additionally, the traditional practices and culture of Indigenous groups radically changed as Indigenous land was overtaken by settler homesteads and resources they depended on became scarce.

 

In Alaska, Indigenous populations faced widespread segregation that inhibited them from accessing certain public services and businesses. Their children were sent to boarding schools to be assimilated to Western culture. At these assimilation schools, the Indigenous children were not allowed to speak their traditional language, practice their culture, and often times experienced physical and sexual abuse.

Today, the widespread oppression of Indigenous populations is still prevalent in major political systems. Indigenous populations currently face generational trauma, an unfair distribution of healthcare services, inadequate education, and disproportionate poverty. Even centuries after European settlers colonized America, the legal system and law enforcement still allow for the continued discrimination of Indigenous populations and condone violence against Indigenous women and girls.

Why It Is Still Prevalent Today

The impacts of colonization have led to many disparities among Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations. Indigenous people are expected to live 5-7 years less than non Indigenous people. They also die at higher rates from physical health issues such as chronic liver disease and diabetes mellitus and mental health issues such as self harm and suicide than any other racial group in America. Additionally, due to lack of access to education, only 17% of Indigenous students attend post secondary in comparison to the national average of 60%. 

After the Western colonization of the Indigenous people in America, the Indigenous people lost sovereignty over their lands and were forced under the jurisdiction of the American government. The disparities above continue to grow largely because Indigenous populations are forced to operate within a government where they do not have equal say nor representation.

  • In 1817, Congress passed the first stature that gave Federal Jurisdiction over an Indigenous person who committed serious crimes against a non- Indigenous person. 

  • In 1885, the Major Crimes Act expanded the number of crimes committed by an Native American on Native territory that were placed under Federal Jurisdiction. 

 

These laws created the foundation that allowed Indigenous people to be tried in a legal system that was inherently biased against them. Since then, Federal jurisdiction over Tribal jurisdiction has only increased. Federal Jurisdiction over crimes that occur to Indigenous people on Indigenous lands have allowed for crimes against Indigenous women and girls to persist. 

Modern U.S. Government Responses 

  • Savanna’s Act

    • A bill passed in October of 2020 that directs the Department of Justice to “review, revise, and develop law enforcement and justice protocols to address missing or murdered Native Americans.” 

  • Operation Lady Justice

    • A task force established in 2019 by former President Donald Trump to address unsolved cases of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and improve law enforcement’s response when these cases occur

  • ​2021 Pilot Project 

    • On February 8, 2021, a pilot project was announced to work in accordance with the Department of Justice’s MMIP initiative and Savanna’s Act to guide how tribes respond to cases of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and girls in Alaska. There are three tribal communities participating in the pilot project: Curyung Native Council (Dillingham), Native Village of Unalakleet, and Koyukuk Native Village. They will use Tribal Community Response Plans specifically tailored to each tribe, developed by the Alaska MMIP group.

  • Missing & Murdered Unit​

    • On April 1, 2021, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced a new Missing & Murdered Unit within the Bureau of Indian Affair​s. "The new MMU unit will provide the resources and leadership to prioritize these cases and coordinate resources to hold people accountable, keep our communities safe, and provide closure for families," according to Haaland's statement posted on the Department of Interior's website.

While some of these initiatives are quite new, overall the responses to the MMIWG2S crisis have been largely inadequate. In Indigenous communities, they are often seemed as procedural and ineffective. The discrimination and denial of sovereignty toward Indigenous groups from the U.S. government have ensured that violence toward Indigenous women continues, and will continue until tribal sovereignty is restored. Until then, any measure taken by the U.S. government will be insufficient in resolving the MMIWG2S crisis. This is a systemic issue that goes back hundreds of years, and turning to the police, law enforcement, and government plays into this country's colonial structures. 

What Can You Do To Help?

  • Support indigenous women and girls

    • Denounce violence against Indigenous women, girls​, and two-spirit

    • Provide emotional support to those affected by cases of missing or murdered Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit

    • Support/donate to mutual aid efforts

  • Support tribal sovereignty and decolonization efforts 

  • Educate the public to raise awareness and support

    • Share information about missing and murdered Indigenous women on social media​

    • Invite family and friends to protests and other events in support of MMIWG2S

  • Attend protests

    • For example, in February of 2021, hundreds of Sitkans gathered and participated in the No More Stolen Sisters 5k Run/Walk to raise awareness for the MMIWG2S movement. Attending actions like this one can help mobilize support for the cause and create a safer community for Indigenous women and girls.​