Indigenous women and girls are disproportionately impacted by violence – they're more likely to be killed or go missing with their cases rarely being solved compared to other Minnesotans.
This epidemic of violence against Indigenous women and girls has been well known among Native American families for centuries and now it has been recognized by the state in a 163-page report released Tuesday by the state's Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) Task Force.
The report found Native American women and girls represent 1% of Minnesota's population but account for 8% of the women and girls who are murdered in the state from 2010-2018. And in a given month from 27 to 54 Native women and girls were missing in Minnesota (Native women and girls account for about 15% of the female missing persons cases in the state).
“For far too long, Native women have been, at best, invisible, and at worst, disposable. As Native women and girls experienced violence, went missing, or were murdered at disproportionate rates, too often, the cases and root causes went unexamined,” Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said in a statement Tuesday, calling this report a "transformative achievement."
Prior to the creation of this task force, there had been no comprehensive data to show the full scope of this problem in Minnesota, which has been needed so organizations can work to end the violence against Indigenous women and girls.
The report lists root causes and factors that have led to this epidemic of violence and offers a variety of recommendations, including for the Minnesota Legislature, so this problem can be addressed.
“The Legislature only required the task force to develop recommendations,” task force member and Fond du Lac Tribal Council District III Representative Roger Smith said in a statement. “At the end of this we will have spent 18 months working on a report, but it took 500 plus years to create this issue.
"It’s time to bring action. My hope is these recommendations, if implemented, will mean not one more woman trafficked, not one more woman abused," Smith added.
Violence against Indigenous women dates back hundreds of years when colonizers sexually victimized Indigenous women and girls, the report said. Practices in the years since – removing Indigenous children from their families and then from practicing their cultural traditions – damaged the Indigenous family structure and normalized violence for women and girls.
What's more, racism and harmful stereotypes of Indigenous people has led to law enforcement and the justice system not treating cases involving missing or killed Native American women and girls the same as incidents involving those who are white or from other communities, the report states. There is also often a lack of understanding of treaty rights, which can lead to jurisdictional issues that can cause cases involving Native women and girls to fall through the cracks.
The lack of equal treatment of Indigenous women and girls is also reflected in the way the media covers – or does not cover – incidents involving them, which reinforces stereotypes and stigma.
The report stresses that Native women, girls and two-spirit people are not at increased risk of being kidnapped or killed because of their behaviors or any choices they've made, but because of systemic risk factors that stem from hundreds of years of trauma and sexual exploitation.
Those systemic risk factors, which place them in dangerous situations, include:
- Native Americans being more likely than other racial groups to live in poverty and face homelessness.
- Child welfare laws, which have disproportionately removed Indigenous children from their families.
- Domestic violence, which is often not investigated and prosecuted adequately when Indigenous people are involved.
- Indigenous women and girls are more likely to be sex trafficked due to the risk factors above and because of stereotypes that portray Indigenous women as highly sexualized and available for men.
"We’re here for you now and we’re going to do what we can to make this better so that nobody has a mother, an aunt, or a grandmother, daughter or sister walk out the door and never know if they are going to see them again,” state Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein, DFL-New Brighton, who authored the legislation to create the task force, said in a statement.
The report includes 20 steps for the Minnesota Legislature, state agencies, tribes and others to address the problem.
Among the first "next steps" to begin addressing the injustices, the report calls for the creation of an MMIW Office to provide ongoing attention to and leadership for this issue; adequate funding and resources to implement these recommendations; addressing systemic racism and focusing on eliminating poverty and meeting basic needs.
Other recommendations include an annual MMIW report and dashboard to track injustices over time; providing tribal law enforcement with resources and training so they can investigate, prosecute and sentence perpetrators of violence against women and girls; passing the federal 2020 Violence Against Women Act; and expanding Minnesota's Safe Harbor law to include all trafficking victims, not just those under age 24.
The report also stresses the importance of increasing awareness of MMIW issues and cases among the general public and calls for any decisions related to MMIW injustices to be informed by Indigenous women and girls.
"As the mother of a 7-year old Ojibwe girl, the contents of this report not only provide some comfort but a road map to ensure all of our daughters can grow up in a world where they are safe and valued," ," Flanagan said in a statement. "Now we must take action to ensure that not one Native woman, girl, or member of the two-spirit community is harmed or forgotten."
The MMIW Task Force was created by a bill, which Gov. Tim Walz signed into law in 2019.
“The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Task Force brought together the voices of survivors and families, advocates, law enforcement, public health experts, legal experts, tribal leaders, and legislators to develop a comprehensive and thoughtful report on the disproportionate rates of violence against Native women and girls,” = Gov. Walz said in a statement “With better data and increased awareness, we can move forward with effective and targeted strategies to support, protect, and heal Native communities.”
The task force includes people from 11 tribal nations, community and advocacy organizations, legislators, law enforcement, and the legal field. Wilder Research assisted the task force, conducting research and facilitating public hearings and comment sessions across Minnesota.
You can read the full report here.