By PUYALLUP TRIBAL NEWS STAFF
Just in time for Native American Heritage Month, the Urban Indian Health Institute (UIHI), the research division of the Seattle Indian Health Board, released a report detailing the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG) in urban areas.
The report, conducted over the past year, found 506 unique cases of MMIWG in urban areas, though this is likely an undercount. Here’s why:
UIHI began this project a year ago to combat the pervasive issue of underreporting, lack of data, and lack of media coverage on MMIWG in urban areas. Today, 71 percent of Natives live in urban areas. Yet the general public does not know of the epidemic number of Native women who are taken from their urban communities. According to the report, this lack of data stems from:
– Under reporting.
– Racial misclassification.
– Poor relations between Native people and law enforcement.
– Institutional racism in media.
– Lack of relations between Native communities and journalists.
As a result, UIHI had to pull data from a variety of sources, including law enforcement records, state and national databases, media coverage, social media, and community and family accounts. Thanks to this stratified approach, UIHI identified 153 different cases that did not exist in any law enforcement records.
The study highlights the prevalence of this issue in the Salish Sea. Of the cities surveyed, Seattle had the most cases of MMIWG, with 45 cases. Tacoma came in seventh place, with 25 total cases. Washington was second of all states studied, with 71 cases of MMIWG in urban areas.
Additionally, a large part of the report focused on how media outlets report on MMIWG; and far too often, it is not covered at all. More than 95 percent of all the cases in this study were never covered by national media sources. The study claims the lack of coverage at all levels — local, regional, and national — as well as a severe lack of repeat coverage, renders over two-thirds of cases invisible to the general public.
Additionally, 31 percent of the media outlets that did report these cases used violent and harmful language when talking about the victims. Language included references to drug or alcohol abuse, misgendering transwomen who were missing or murdered, and making references to the victim’s criminal history. This type of language used against MMIWG further perpetuates the system that allows them to disappear, feeding into a cycle of dehumanization and violence.
Since the report’s release on Nov. 14, it has been covered by media outlets across the country at least 400 times. However, many of these articles do not address how MMIWG are portrayed — if they are mentioned at all — in the media. One would hope that these outlets recognize this going forward, and find themselves reporting fairly and consistently on future cases.
While some change is happening at a legislative level, there is still much to be done. In October 2018 Congress passed “Savanna’s Act,” named after a pregnant Native woman who was murdered in Fargo, N.D. The bill requires federal law enforcement to track and report data on MMIWG.
“Until there is cooperation and better tracking systems at all government levels, the data on missing and murdered Indigenous women will never be 100 percent accurate, which is what we need to strive for to protect our mothers, daughters, sisters, and aunties.” –Abigail Echo-Hawk
The study stressed that Tribes should be able to advocate for their citizens regardless of where they live, just like all other sovereign nations.
To read the full report, and for more information on Urban Indian Health Institute, go to uihi.org