A country in crisis: recognizing the MMIW epidemic

PINE RIDGE, S.D. — It’s a crisis not just in Indian country, but across the nation – and North America as a whole.

Native Americans make up a little more than 8% of South Dakota’s population, but account for nearly 70% of the missing persons cases.

Thursday is the National Day of Action for the MMIW movement, and grassroots organizations across the country are raising awareness and pushing for reforms.

“The missing and murdered indigenous women, that is what ‘MMIW’ stands for, but also the missing and murdered indigenous men also,” says Davidica Little Spotted Horse, MMIW activist.

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From left to right: Wendell Youngman (Oglala Sioux Tribal Chairman), Alicia Mousseau (Oglala Sioux Tribe Vice President), Olowan Martinez and Davidica Little Spotted Horse (MMIW activists). (photo date: May 3, 2022)

The movement started in Canada and quickly spread through the United States, where tribal communities shared the struggle of limited resources and interest for their missing people.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, murder is the third leading cause of death for Indigenous women. A National Institute of Justice report in 2016 found that nearly 85% of Indigenous women have experienced violence in their lifetime.

This week is the National MMIW Week of Action, and organizations across the U.S. and Canada are raising awareness.

“A lot of times the allies don’t realize that awareness is key, and there’s so many non-natives who don’t even know this is going on,
says Little Spotted Horse. “So many people out there who are non-native who don’t even realize that this is an epidemic in indigenous populations, and so spreading the word would be the first thing to help.”

Local activists say their research has shown that permanent ports-of-entry could be a major asset in a crisis, while also recognizing the need for things like self-defense classes to help empower women.

“I have to be able to protect myself, protect my soul, protect my spirit, and that’s when I – at the age of 21 – developed a voice for myself and said ‘enough is enough and I’m no longer going to stand for it,'” says Shawnee Red Bear, a Lakota woman veteran and Tribal Veterans Service Officer for the Oglala Sioux Tribe.

Tribal Councilman Wendell Youngman says a big part of the solution is people watching out for people and coming together as a community to keep each other safe.

“We know there’s no more programs or people or religion that’s going to come here and save us; it’s left into our hands,” says Olowan Martinez, MMIW activist. “So even bringing the awareness to the oyate [people] across our own homeland is my major concern.”

Oglala Sioux Tribal Council says they’ve met with law enforcement and the State’s Attorney’s Office in Rapid City, and are working towards greater utilization of Savanna’s Act. Signed into law in 2020, Savanna’s Act addresses gaps in MMIW investigations, including the reporting of statistics and tribal use of federal missing persons systems.

Both President Biden and South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem issuing proclamations naming May 5 as Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Day.

Those proclamations available here:

US House 2022 MMIW Resolution Final

SD Missing-and-Murdered-Indigenous-Persons-Day Proclamation

It was announced late Thursday that Rapid City Police Chief Don Hedrick has been named to the Not Invisible Act Commission by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. The Commission will make recommendations to both the Interior Dept. and Dept. of Justice on improving coordination and investigation of MMIW cases.

Categories: Local News, National News, South Dakota News