Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People: An Invisible Crisis Coming to the Surface

By Helena Darrow (Chiricahua Apache) Intern, Public Health Chronic Disease and Injury Prevention

For many years, Indigenous communities have been sounding the alarm about missing and murdered Indigenous women and people in their communities. These grassroots advocacy efforts became known internationally as the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People (MMIWP) movement. In recent years, this advocacy has led to more and more agencies becoming involved in addressing the crisis.

Violence against Indigenous people is not a new occurrence. It results from harmful responses and policies at multiple government levels that ignore Indigenous people’s lived experiences across the U.S. and Washington state. It is essential to acknowledge the harm caused by these institutions and the impacts of racism as we work to end this crisis.

Data on violence in American Indian and Alaska Native communities

Ribbon skirts made by Marita Growing Thunder on display at a hall of the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center.
Ribbon skirts made by Marita Growing Thunder sewed while in high school on display at the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center. Photo by Lyndsey Brolini.

While there are significant gaps in data about American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) people, available data shows that AI/AN people face high rates of violence. For example, the U.S. National Institute of Justice reports that 84% of AI/AN women experience violence in their lifetimes. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) name homicide as a leading cause of death for AI/AN women and the fifth leading cause of death for AI/AN men.

Organizations such as Data for Indigenous Justice and the Urban Indian Health Institute, among others, are working to investigate the MMIWP crisis better through data. For example, a 2018 report from the Urban Indian Health Institute (UIHI) in Seattle brought this issue to the forefront of conversations, specifically in Washington state. Researchers found that Washington state had one of the highest MMIW cases compared to other states. Additionally, Seattle had the highest number of MMIW cases out of the 71 cities surveyed, highlighting the depth of this issue among Native communities and Washington state.

Washington state’s efforts to address the problem

As a result, the Washington state government is working to create new grant programs to provide services to Indigenous families and survivors of human trafficking and implement a “Missing Indigenous Person Alert,” like silver alerts.

And in December 2021, Washington state set up a taskforce to assess systemic causes for the MMIWP crisis and determine effective solutions. The Task Force consists of representatives from Washington state tribes, urban Native organizations, community members, and Washington state legislators. Last month, the MMIWP Task Force issued its first report outlining ten key recommendations that are the first steps toward collaborative solution-making.

These recommendations range from improving and standardizing data collection and searches to increasing communication and collaboration between law enforcement agencies and the families of those missing or murdered. And to create a Cold Case Investigation Unit that focuses on MMIWP cold cases, among other recommendations.

Public Health – Seattle & King County actions

Work at Public Health – Seattle & King County aligns with several of the recommendations, such as using inclusive language to reflect the experiences of survivors and address issues in data collection and reporting for smaller populations. For example, the Community Health Indicators dashboard now shows disaggregated race and ethnicity data that can be viewed alone or in combination. Additionally, the Best Starts for Kids Health Survey and Community Cafes utilize building connections with communities, like the Native community, to conduct community-led data collection and interpretation. While these data types are unavailable for every topic, they demonstrate how to achieve more inclusive data reporting for MMIWP in Public Health.

Additionally, Indigenous advocacy groups and community organizations continue to provide support and recognition for MMIWP and survivors and their families. These organizations continue to exemplify the resiliency and strength of the Native community through their work to end the MMIWP crisis. See the list below to learn more.

While there is still a long way to go to address the MMIWP crisis fully, the work from Indigenous people and organizations and Washington state are steps in the right direction. Everyone can support those affected by MMIWP and help to end this crisis in Seattle and King County through:

Published on September 19, 2022