Students to raise awareness of thousands of missing, murdered indigenous women

Indigenous women, also known as Native American women, experience murder rates 10 times the national average, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. High school students in La Crosse are hosting an event to bring awareness to this issue and what can be done.

According to the National Crime Information Center, the number of missing indigenous women in 2017 was in the thousands.

“In 2017, there was 5,712, and this year alone in January, there were 36 reported cases in the United States,” said Izabella Britten, co-president for the Indigenous Peoples Club.

Some believe the number of missing indigenous women may be higher than that. According to the Urban Indian Health Institute, the U.S. Department of Justice’s federal missing persons database only had 116 logged cases, but the organization was able to find more.

Britten had known about the issue but wasn’t aware of the extent of the problem until one of the other club members brought it to her attention.

“Just having my people being hurt and killed just made me want to do something and this club want to do something because it’s a big issue that impacts us all,” Britten said.

Social media has helped spread the message about these cases. There are a number of Facebook pages devoted to the issue.

“It’s bringing it to light, it’s putting it out there. It’s saying, ‘Yeah, we’re not invisible,'” said Angela Ward, director for the domestic abuse division of the Ho-Chunk Nation.

Part of the worry is that some of the missing girls might have run away and been picked up for sex trafficking.

“You have somebody who their self-esteem is really low. And it’s easier to get somebody when they feel so low,” Ward said.

One of the many barriers to these investigations is jurisdiction when trying to find the women or prosecute murder cases.

“Tribes are trying to fight the ability to take these perpetrators and try them in tribal court so that the justice is there for the women,” Ward said.

Pending legislation could help these problems. Savanna’s Act would help law enforcement better track the number of missing or murdered Native Americans and make standardized investigation protocols, among other points.

There is another recent piece of national legislation that is being supported by one of the members of the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin. Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kansas) has introduced the Not Invisible Act of 2019 that would help bring more awareness and strengthen relationships between tribal and federal agencies to combat this issue.

For now, Ward said they want to continue to bring awarenesses to the problem and how it impacts indigenous people and their communities, especially because many of the tribal members live in bigger cities.

“It doesn’t just happen on the reservations. It happens throughout wherever there are indigenous people. It’s happening, it’s just not being told,” Ward said.

The event in La Crosse will be held Monday, May 6, outside Central High School from 10:10 to 10:45 a.m.

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