Native American tribes seeing many cases of murdered, missing indigenous women

They are mothers, sisters and daughters who go missing or are murdered, and for years, families and tribe members don’t get answers on what happened.

November is National Native American Heritage Month and the Spokane Public Library has been hosting events to inform the community about the culture and what issues they see.

On Sunday, the issue that came to light regarded murdered and missing indigenous women.

This is not an issue that’s just happening in the Inland Northwest, it’s nationwide. According to a report done in 2018 by the Urban Indian Health Institute, Washington State has the second highest number of missing and murdered indigenous women cases. Seattle was listed number one with the most cases, out of 71 cities surveyed.

Tribe members say this is an epidemic. American Indian women face murder rates that are ten times the national average, the U.S. Department of Justice said.

To some of us, red is just a color, but to Native Americans, it means something more.

“We wear red to symbolize our lost and stolen sisters,” said Margo Hill, a member of the Spokane Tribe. She also served as the tribe’s attorney for more than a decade.

Having lost and stolen sisters is something Spokane Tribe member Donna Pascal knows all too well.

“Just as recently as this last summer, I had a friend of mine that, they found her in an alley,” Pascal said.

She said her friend died.

“There’s unanswered questions as to what happened to her,” she said.

Tribes across the nation say thousands of Native American women are disappearing. It’s a plight many are bringing awareness to.

The Urban Indian Health Institute said in 2016 alone, there were more than 5,700 cases of murdered or missing Native American women reported. Only 116 of those cases were submitted into a database.

“Our native women, when we have to confront violence, we need to be listened to. We need supportive services for our women that are experiencing domestic violence,” Hill said.

She calls for more investigation into these cases.

“By bringing attention to the issue, wearing our red skirts, our young women that are running track with the hand print on their face brings attention and people have to do the investigations,” she said.

In recent years, Washington state legislators passed two bills. The first was to figure out how to increase reporting and investigation of missing native women, and the second to improve law enforcement responses in those cases.

“I think it’s a start to something that we can let the community become aware of what’s going on. I think it needs to continue,” Pascal said.

That is because these women mean something to someone.

“They are somebody’s daughter, they are somebody’s mother, and we remember them and honor them by wearing red,” Hill said.

Pascal asks that anyone, not just Native American women, to be careful of his or her surroundings.

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