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Invisible No More: Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG)

By Seattle City Councilmember Debora Juarez.

The MMIWG epidemic spans our nation’s families and Canada’s as well. This is an issue that media has recently taken on and for good reason.

– Indigenous women are murdered at rates greater than 10 times the national average.

– Murder is the 3rd leading cause of death among American Indian/Alaska Native women.  

– Seattle ranks #1 as having the highest rate of MMIWG cases across the country. (among study sample of 71 cities reported by Seattle Indian Health Board).

However, violence against Native communities is nothing new, despite recent media coverage. As a Native woman and as an attorney I know and understand the decades of trauma overcome by Native Americans. MMIWG is a byproduct of institutional oppression. This is what happens when institutions that are designed to support vulnerable populations, in fact suppress and ignore them. Injustice here has manifested not only in brick and mortar, but also in services, programs and in the budget. I’m committed to de-colonizing this current shape of local government in order to better serve communities of color.

The first ever research publication on MMIWG in urban areas was published in late 2018 by the Seattle Indian Health Board (SIHB) – a community health center that specializes in the care of Native people. Research shows racism, lack of proper data collection, and distrust of law enforcement amongst native people are but a few barriers to understanding the full scope of this epidemic. MMIWG casework is dramatically undercounted. In 2016, the Department of Justice’s federal missing persons database only logged 116 of 5,712 reports of missing AI/AN cases. This should have warranted an immediate federal response. 

So why are we seeing action now? 

In the last couple of years research has come to fruition. SIHB’s report published in November 2018, and Canada’s Inquiry published in June 2019 both created a media frenzy. More women are speaking up, and more women are running for office. So naturally, you’ll see a shift in policy priorities for women and families. As an elected, I introduced the nation’s first real legislation to address MMIWG.

Featured is Abigail Echo-Hawk (Pawnee), Chief Research Officer for the Seattle Indian Health Board [left], who is standing next to Councilmember Debora Juarez (Blackfeet) on the day RES 31900 passed Seattle City Council.
On September 9, 2019, Indigenous women and girls from around Washington State filled Seattle’s City Hall to advocate for this bill. There was electricity in the air. You could see the resiliency and hear it through the stories and trauma shared by the public during City Council. There was a captive audience, and the MMIWG legislation passed 9-0.

The legislation was the first of many steps the City took this year. We passed a budget to include a Seattle Police Department data analyst dedicated to MMIWG casework, as well as contract funds towards the Urban Indian Health Institute to assist with technical training and consulting.

Thanks to the leadership and hard work of community-based organizations like the Seattle Indian Health Board, we continue to follow their subject matter expertise and work in partnership with the Mayor’s office and Seattle Police Department to bring rise to stronger solutions.