Hope for the missing and murdered Indigenous women of Minnesota

Feb. 18, 2021

Participants at a rally to raise awareness of missing and murdered Indigenous women

If you’re not a member of an Indigenous (Native American, American Indian) community in Minnesota, you may be unaware of an injustice that has plagued Minnesota tribes for far too long: Missing and murdered Indigenous women. Historically speaking, the issue hasn’t been publicized much, but it is shockingly pervasive. In any given month from 2012 to 2020 in Minnesota, between 27 and 54 American Indian women and girls were missing.

If that seems like a lot, it is – especially when you think about proportions. American Indian women and girls make up just 1 percent of the population in our state. And yet 8 percent of all women and girls murdered between 2010 and 2019 were American Indian. Similarly, two-spirit youth are more likely to be runaways or otherwise experience homelessness and are thus more vulnerable to being victimized than their counterparts.

Harmful stereotypes and misunderstandings only add to the problem. For example, some believe that Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit (LGBTQQIA) people are at an increased risk of violence because of risky behaviors or poor choices they have made as individuals. But the underlying causes are historic and systemic. Historical trauma, poverty and homelessness, child welfare involvement, domestic violence, and being sex trafficked and prostituted place Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people in dangerous situations, making them more likely to become victims of violence. Similarly, racism can lead to a lack of media coverage of the issue, and what coverage there is sometimes reinforces the aforementioned stereotypes.

With unanimous bipartisan support, the Minnesota Legislature passed legislation in 2019 creating the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Task Force. The task force, coordinated by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, was made up of representatives from Minnesota’s tribes, law enforcement, organizations that provide services to victimized Indigenous women and girls, the judicial system, the medical community, other highly experienced subject-matter experts, and the legislature itself – as well as survivors of the violence they hoped to address.

For more than a year, the task force held public hearings; interviewed victims, their families, and experts; and gathered evidence. The result was a report to the Minnesota Legislature, released in Dec. 2020, that contains 20 mandates for systemic and community change. Here are some highlights:

  • Address the systemic causes behind the disproportionate violence experienced by Indigenous women and girls.
  • Collect and report data on violence against Indigenous women and girls and the measures necessary to address and reduce it.
  • Address policies and practices in institutions that impact violence against Indigenous women and girls.
  • Prevent and reduce and eliminate the harms of trafficking.
  • Insure that any initiative or decision related to missing and murdered Indigenous women is informed by Indigenous women and girls.
  • Help Indigenous women and girls who are victims/ survivors, their families, and their communities prevent and heal from violence.

The hope is that if Minnesota government, institutions, social service providers, industries, and the public follow these mandates, we can begin to address and solve injustices toward missing and murdered Indigenous women.

If you or someone you know are an Indigenous woman or girl who needs help, consider reaching out to these organizations that support victims and survivors of violence.