Murder third leading cause of death for Native women, new report shows

A map displaying the locations of missing and murdered Alaska Native women was displayed at...
A map displaying the locations of missing and murdered Alaska Native women was displayed at the Alaska Federation of Natives. (KTUU) (KTUU)
Published: Nov. 14, 2018 at 12:44 PM AKST
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Murder is the third leading cause of death among American Indian and Alaska Native women.

In a survey, Alaska ranked fourth for the high number of missing or murdered indigenous women and girls.

The rate of murdered or missing women in the state is highest in Anchorage.

All of that, plus an enormous amount of additional numbers, were released by the Seattle based Urban Indian Health Institute and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

"The number of indigenous women in these areas that are murdered, that are missing, are disproportionate to other populations," Murkowski said, "which then demands the question: Why? Why is that? Why are we not dedicating the resources where are we failing here so, so much?"

Murkowski wants the information to highlight the problem and bring awareness to what is a pretty awful situation.

"I think the responsibility of Native women being safe should not ever be placed on the Native women. What we need to do is see a society change," Abigail Echo-Hawk, the director for Urban Indian Health Institute, said. "We need to understand this is a norm that has been established in our community where violence against American Indian and Alaska Native women in Anchorage is a norm and is allowable. So what we need to do is not place it on Native women to figure out a way for them to be safe but rather how do we make their community safe for them."

The report was conducted with data from 71 U.S. cities showing 506 cases of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. It also says some of the information is probably too low, considering situations in which either a law enforcement office didn't provide any information, it was inaccurately filed, or information was limited to when digital files were kept. The report also says the data is vastly understated because of inconsistent reporting practices by law enforcement agencies and federal crime data collectors.

The states with the highest number of cases were: New Mexico (78), Washington (71), Arizona (54), Alaska (52), Montana (41), California (40) and Nebraska (33).

"Alaska is again in a category that is beyond unacceptable," Murkowski said, "but how much worse is the problem if we haven't been able to get enough data?"

Murkowski said she was at the memorial service for Ashley Johnson-Barr, the 10-year-old girl murdered in Kotzebue. Her death sparked public outcry and a call for change.

"We have inadequate or insufficient law enforcement. In some of the villages you really don't have any law enforcement presence at all," Murkowski said. "So how do you keep a woman feeling safe? How do you protect the children?"

Murkowski co-sponsored legislation specifically addressing missing or murdered indigenous women and girls. Savanna's Act directs the U.S. Department of Justice to have new protocols for reporting of violent crimes against indigenous people. It also provides for improved coordination between federal, state, tribal and local law enforcement agencies in investigating cases involving these types of crimes.