SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirit (MMIWG2s) epidemic is beginning to get the attention of law enforcement, policymakers, elected officials, and community leaders in the State of Utah. In an information session Monday morning, advocates presented the alarming data and recommendations on ways Salt Lake City could address the issue.

“Today was to provide education and increase understanding of the scope of the epidemic to really look at underlying conditions that lead to this crisis,” said Moroni Benally, Coordinator of Public Policy and Advocacy for Restoring Ancestral Winds. “We brought everyone together to show them the empirical reality of these communities and bring to bear their resources, their expertise, their policy access, so we can start working collaboratively to address this crisis.”

According to Restoring Ancestral Winds, Native American women face the highest rates of violence per capita out of any other race in the United States:

  • 84.3 percent of Native American women and Two-Spirit (defined as LGBTQI among Native communities) have experienced violence in their lifetime
  • 56.1 percent have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime
  • 55.5 percent have experienced physical violence by intimate partners in their lifetime
  • 48.8 percent have been stalked in their lifetime
  • 34.1 percent of Indigenous women will be raped in her lifetime (2x more likely than a non-Hispanic white woman at 17.9 percent)
  • 85 percent of Two-Spirit experienced sexual violence, 78 percent experienced assault
  • 10 times more likely to be murdered

According to the Urban Indian Health Institute, Utah is ranked 8th highest state in the nation and Salt Lake City is ranked as the 9th highest city in the nation for MMIWG2s at 24 cases. However, experts believe this is likely an undercount because of inaccurate documentation, misreporting of gender, and under-reporting by victims complicating statistical data. They said currently available data suggests the need for community engagement in increasing awareness and addressing all types of violence against Indigenous women and Two-Spirit.

“I think what struck me is that there’s so much work to do. It’s not a law enforcement issue. I think it’s a societal issue and I think there’s a lot of work to be done. If it was easy, we would’ve done it a long time ago,” said Salt Lake City Police Department Chief Mike Brown. “What I really appreciate is there was great conversation, which spurs an awareness. When you have more awareness, people come together. When people come together, we figure out a plan. When you have a plan, we can move it forward.”

Not all cases of violence occur on Native American reservation land. In fact, 71 percent of Native Americans live in urban areas outside of reservations.

Additionally, Native women are more likely than women from other races to experience violence committed by interracial perpetrators. A 2016 report from the National Institute of Justice found:

  • 96 percent of sexual violence victims experience violence at the hands of a non-Native perpetrator, 21 percent have experienced intra-racial violence
  • Native women are five times more likely to have experienced physical violence by an interracial intimate partner compared to a non-Hispanic white woman (90 percent v. 18 percent)
  • 89 percent of Native women have experienced stalking by a non-Native perpetrator

As of 2018, advocates said there is no database system in the United States that tracks how many Indigenous women have been abducted or murdered, nor is there a policy to help the federal agencies, tribal agencies, state agencies, counties, and city agencies to coordinate a response.

“We are recommending that we create a task force, a statewide task force to study the scope and prevalence of the crisis in the state of Utah,” said Benally.

He said Montana, Arizona, New Mexico, Washington, and North Dakota have passed or considered creation of task forces to study the scope of MMIWG2s. He proposed creating better tracking of crime against Indigenous people, inter-agency coordination of task forces, and increased tribal jurisdiction.

“I like that. I think we outta put a task force together and I think it ought to be more than just law enforcement. I think we can all come together. I think there’s a lot of work to be done. But when we all put our resources together, we can really make a difference here in Salt Lake City,” said Chief Brown.

Chief Brown said SLCPD has been meeting with Restoring Ancestral Winds over the past year. Advocates said they’re hopeful about progress and change.

Across the country, members of the Murder Accountability Project (based in Washington D.C.) is expected to file a lawsuit in the next two weeks against the FBI for underreporting of Native American homicides and lack of compliance with the Uniform Code Reporting Act of 1988.

When asked about the lawsuit, Benally said, “We are open to all possibilities that will ultimately lead to mitigating this overall crisis and reporting. But also, any possibility that will help us to a point where we actually started addressing the root causes of this missing and murdered indigenous peoples epidemic.”

Representative Angela Romero is expected to draft a bill to create a MMIWG2s task force in the upcoming legislative session.

Restoring Ancestral Winds will host a one-day conference called Invisible Indigenous Women Matter on September 14th at the Officer’s Club at the University of Utah.