ST. PAUL — Indigenous (American Indian and Native American) women and girls are far more likely to experience violence, be murdered, or go missing than other groups in Minnesota. American Indian women and girls represent 1 percent of the state’s population, but make up 8 percent of murdered women and girls in Minnesota, That’s one of the findings in a report from the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) Task Force, a task force created by the Minnesota Legislature and signed into law by Governor Tim Walz in 2019.
“The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Task Force brought together the voices of survivors and families, advocates, law enforcement, public health experts, legal experts, tribal leaders, and legislators to develop a comprehensive and thoughtful report on the disproportionate rates of violence against Native women and girls,” said Governor Walz. “With better data and increased awareness, we can move forward with effective and targeted strategies to support, protect, and heal Native communities.”
“For far too long, Native women have been, at best, invisible, and at worst, disposable. As Native women and girls experienced violence, went missing, or were murdered at disproportionate rates, too often, the cases and root causes went unexamined,” said Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan. “We measure what we care about, which is why this report is a transformative achievement. As the mother of a seven-year old Ojibwe girl, the contents of this report not only provide some comfort but a road map to ensure all of our daughters can grow up in a world where they are safe and valued. Now we must take action to ensure that not one Native woman, girl, or member of the two-spirit community is harmed or forgotten.”
The legislation appointed the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) as the coordinating agency. The task force includes representatives from 11 tribal nations, community and advocacy organizations, legislators, law enforcement, and the legal field. Wilder Research assisted the task force, conducting extensive research and facilitating public hearings and comment sessions across Minnesota.
“The proposed mandates identified within this report are the steps needed to begin addressing and solving the MMIW injustices,” DPS Commissioner John Harrington said, “Not one more woman trafficked, not one more abused”.
According to the report, the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women is a crisis that permeates the criminal justice system, affecting systems that interact with victims, survivors and their families. The task force discovered themes of accountability, uniformity and accessibility as they studied critical issues contributing to the crisis.
Task force findings include:
Root cause of MMIW injustices are based in colonization and historical trauma, racism, and sexism and sexual objectification of Indigenous women and girls.
Indigenous women, girls and two spirit people are not at increased risk of violence because of individual risky behaviors or poor choices, but rather systemic risk factors such as poverty and homelessness, child welfare involvement, domestic violence, sex trafficking and prostitution which place them in dangerous situations.
Once an Indigenous woman or girl goes missing or dies under suspicious circumstances, the investigation, prosecution and sentencing processes that are supposed to serve justice often fail to provide equal and fair treatment for these Indigenous victims.
The system does not include sufficient resources for adequate culturally responsive healing resources for Indigenous victims or survivors, families and communities.
We’re here for you now and we’re going to do what we can to make this better so that nobody has a mother, an aunt, or a grandmother, daughter or sister walk out the door and never know if they are going to see them again,” Representative Mary Kunesh-Podein.
“Many of us have a story of a relative or loved one who has been missing or murdered,” said Nicole Matthews, Executive Director of the Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition and Task Force Vice Chair. “This report with the included mandates is one more step that we are taking in Minnesota to address this issue and ensure that all our Indigenous relatives are safe.”
The next steps for the task force include implementation of recommendations:
Create an MMIW Office to provide ongoing attention to and leadership for this issue.
Ensure adequate funding and resources to implement these recommendations.
Address systemic racism.
Focus on eliminating poverty and meeting basic needs.
Nicole MartinRogers, Wilder Research Senior Research Manager who worked on the study, said, “The report outlines clear actions needed to end the systemic violence experienced by Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people.”
“The Legislature only required the task force to develop recommendations,” said task force member and Fond du Lac Tribal Council District III Representative Roger Smith. “At the end of this we will have spent 18 months working on a report, but it took 500 plus years to create this issue. It’s time to bring action. My hope is these recommendations, if implemented, will mean not one more woman trafficked, not one more woman abused.”
The report can found on the Department of Public Safety Office of Justice website.