Activists say that generations of killings and disappearances of Native American women have been disregarded by law enforcement and lost in bureaucratic gaps concerning which local or federal agencies should investigate, the New York Times reports.
There is no reliable count of how many Native women go missing or are killed each year. Researchers say that women often are misclassified as Hispanic or Asian or other racial categories on missing-persons forms and that thousands have been left off a federal missing-persons database. A grass-roots movement led by activists and victims’ families is casting a national spotlight on the disproportionately high rates of violence faced by indigenous women and girls.
President Donald Trump signed an executive order last month creating a task force to improve cooperation among law enforcement agencies and address problems with basic data collection.
Some tribal officials praised the move. Other activists criticized it as a hollow, belated gesture that failed to include tribes or survivors and would do nothing to give tribes more authority to prosecute sex traffickers or others who prey on women and girls.
They said its focus on rural reservations has also overlooked the large numbers of Native people in cities who become targets of violence.
Tara Sweeney, assistant secretary for Indian Affairs in the Interior Department, said the task force had met with survivors and indigenous leaders in Arizona, Alaska, South Dakota and Washington State and was committed to including their voices in its recommendations.
“We need to do something,” she said. Activists call the crisis a legacy of generations of government policies of forced removal, land seizures and violence inflicted on indigenous people.