Native American and Alaska Native women are more than twice as likely to experience violent crimes compared to all other races - four out of every five Indigenous women have experienced violence in their lives.
On some reservations, Native women are murdered at a rate more than ten times the national average, according to an analysis funded by the National Institute of Justice.
For any other group, this would be a widely-recognized epidemic of violence. But for Native communities, these deaths and disappearances are more likely to be uncounted and unsolved.
On Thursday, the Metro Council unanimously approved a resolution to adopt and proclaim May 5 as a National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls, a designation approved by the U.S. Senate this year.
Deborah Shipman of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma spoke to the council about the largely unseen, but rampant violence affecting Native women. Shipman founded the organization Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women USA in 2013 after two of her friends were murdered in Gallup, New Mexico.
Shipman told the council there are an estimated 9,000 women who are missing. That number was collected by Shipman who said that there aren’t accurate counts of missing women.
“We're the only race that has no data collected from us, from our missing, any crimes against us or anything like that,” she said.
Shipman said tribal police and public police do not cooperate with each other. She said they are not required to work with each other and will often defer responsibility to the other party. The trafficking of women and children across state lines further muddies the responsibility. Shipman said a native child who crosses state borders would be totally lost.
“Often times, especially on the reservations, there are no... investigations,” Shipman said. “They simply take a report and the family never hears anything again.”
Three hundred families with missing women contacted MMIWUSA last year, but only five of these cases led to a prosecution.
Metro’s support for this national day of awareness follows a similar proclamation passed by the City of Portland on March 29. Laura John, the tribal liaison for the City of Portland, and descendant of the Blackfeet and Seneca Nations, spoke to the council about the proclamation as a foundation to help tribal communities.
“Raising awareness of this issue can make a difference,” John said. “This is the first step towards identifying what needs to be put in place in order for this issue to be addressed.”
Shipman said there are future legislative efforts underway to require state and tribal law enforcement agencies to collect data about missing indigenous women. Washington state recently passed a law that requires agencies to collaborate and investigate these disappearances. Another idea in consideration is to extend Amber Alerts to reservations.
Metro Councilor Craig Dirksen thanked the speakers for sharing and said he would like see positive changes come from the proclamation.
"I hope that this resolution drawing attention and other resolutions like it will result in a greater scrutiny at all levels and greater cooperation between [all levels of] law enforcement," Dirksen said.
Metro Civil Rights program manager Clifford Higgins, who is Chetco of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz, urged the council to approve the proclamation. Higgins said it is important to focus on racial issues that affect indigenous communities.
Maiya Osife (right) led a song in honor of missing and murdered Native women.
Listen to the song
“Having policies that ignore where there is a racial component erases those communities that are most affected by those issues and it also minimizes and hides the urgency and tragedy that is ongoing,” Higgins said.
Maiya Osife, an intertribal cultural resource specialist with Metro, gathered a group of eight indigenous women to sing a song honoring missing and murdered women. Osife learned the song from the Lillooet BC First Nations community in Canada.
Metro Councilor Shirley Craddick took the rare step of reading the entire proclamation in full before the council voted.
“Metro stands with other tribal, local, regional, state and national governments and organizations in support of National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls,” Craddick read aloud.
This act will ultimately help lost Native women, Shipman said as she finished her testimony to the council.
“We'll do good work with it," she said, "and make sure that we do the best job we can to bring these women home.”
Read the full Metro Council resolution.
Learn more about the U.S. Senate’s designation.