We Need to Shine a Light on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

There are few things more awful than not knowing if your daughter will ever come home again. What if you also felt ignored, that your child mattered less to authorities because of her ethnicity.

This is the reality for Native families across our country. Indigenous women and girls face violence at a far higher rate, up to 10 times the national average. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that murder is the third-leading cause of death among American Indian and Alaska Native women.

At the same time this horrific epidemic of violence is happening, it’s also widely underreported. The National Crime Information Center revealed that in 2016, there were 5,712 reports of missing American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls. However, the U.S. Department of Justice’s federal missing persons database only logged 116 cases during this time.

As a state and as a country, we are failing these women. We need to get to the root of the issue—why is this so underreported? Why aren’t tribes getting the resources and support they need to protect women and girls from violence?

Last week, my colleagues Sen. Janet Bewley, Rep. Amanda Stuck, Rep. Jeff Mursau and I released bipartisan legislation to tackle this head on. This bill creates a task force in the Department of Justice to examine and address the widespread issue of violence against female tribal members. 

This bill came together through years of hard work from organizations such as American Indians Against Abuse, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault, End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin and tribal leaders and activists across Wisconsin. The task force will address the reasons behind, and find solutions to end, the domestic and sexual abuse of native women and girls.

The task force is not just a body of state officials. It will be led by representatives from tribal governments and tribal community members who regularly work with victims of violence and those who have witnessed firsthand what is happening in Indian country.

“Addressing the MMIW crisis requires acknowledging that the crisis exists, understanding the deep and complex roots underlying the crisis, and taking meaningful action to provide justice to the missing and murdered and protect Native women and girls moving forward,” said Shannon Holsey of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians and President of the Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council.

Holsey continued, “While there is so much that needs to be done to stop the violence perpetrated on Native women and girls and ultimately end this horrific crisis, the creation of this task force would be a tremendous first step forward for Wisconsin.”

I represent the 74th District, home to three federally recognized tribes. I used to work with Red Cliff Tribe families. My children and grandchild are all Red Cliff tribal members. This issue is deeply personal to me.

But even if this epidemic doesn’t affect you directly, I’m sure you’re as saddened and horrified as all of us. As good neighbors, I call on you to support this legislation and ongoing efforts to curtail violence against Indigenous women and girls. I’m proud to work with my colleagues in a bipartisan manner on such important legislation, and I’m hopeful this bill will move forward.