Respect Diversity + Inclusion

How can we find missing Native American women?

people hold a moment of silence for missing and murdered indigenous women in front of the Capitol
A moment of silence for missing and murdered indigenous women in front of the Capitol in September 2019.

Story at a glance

  • Thousands of Native American women in the United States and Canada have gone missing or been murdered.
  • A bill going before Congress would involve federal law enforcement more directly in these cases.
  • The bill also gives Native American communities access to more resources in their search for these women.

Nobody knows exactly how many Native American women have gone missing or been murdered in the U.S. and Canada, but the number is in the thousands, according to an Associated Press (AP) investigation. And on some reservations, the DOJ says Native American Women are murdered at a rate more than 10 times the national average. 

On Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs sent a bill to be considered by the House and Senate that would, among other things, require federal law enforcement agencies to report on cases of missing or murdered Native Americans. 

“Where do I go to file a missing person’s report? Do I go to the tribal police? In some places they’re underfunded and undertrained. The Bureau of Indian Affairs? The FBI? They might want to help, but a missing person case without more is not a crime, so they may not be able to open an investigation. Do I go to one of the county sheriffs?” former North Dakota federal prosecutor Tim Purdon said to the AP. “If that sounds like a horribly complicated mishmash of law enforcement jurisdictions that would tremendously complicate how I would try to find help, it’s because that’s what it is.”

The bill allows for tribal liaisons to have access to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, giving Native American communities a better chance of finding missing community members. It also creates a grant program for efforts to address the crisis by tracking cases, coordinating communication between agencies and developing other resources to aid in searches. 

“The crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women is appalling and demands the full attention of the federal government and the entire nation. We cannot continue to tolerate this violence, and Native women and families are entitled to justice,” Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), who introduced this bill in June, said in a statement

This follows an announcement by Attorney General William Barr of a national effort to better coordinate law enforcement in missing cases and an executive order from President Donald Trump establishing a task force to address the crisis.