Minnesota has attained a horrible but necessary achievement: The state is taking the lead in putting a stop to the murder and disappearance of Indigenous women.
Minnesota’s recently passed public safety budget includes money to form the first state office in the U.S. with a focus on missing and murdered Indigenous relatives.
Indigenous women and girls are far more likely to experience violence, be murdered or go missing compared to other demographic groups in Minnesota, according to a state task force that studied the issue for two years.
While Indigenous people make up just 1% of the state’s population, 9% of all murdered girls and women in Minnesota from 2010-2019 were American Indian. Along with being trafficked, women are twice as likely to be sexually assaulted as women of other races, according to federal data.
A 2017 case may be familiar to most people. A 22-year-old pregnant Native woman went missing from her apartment in Fargo, North Dakota. Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind was later found dead across the Red River in Moorhead, dumped by her neighbors who’d cut out her baby and killed her.
LaFontaine-Greywind’s case received attention because of how brutal the circumstances were. But her death is far from an isolated case. The task force determined that between 27 and 54 Native women and girls in Minnesota were missing in any given month from 2012 to 2020.
The panel recommended that a specific office be devoted to the problem to give it the attention it deserves. State funding will staff an office with a director and three other employees.
The office is to provide assistance to law enforcement during active missing person cases and conduct reviews of cases that have gone cold. It would link up with a new federal cold-case unit established by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Native American to lead a U.S. Cabinet agency.
A data dashboard with multiple sources for the information is to be established to allow immediate sharing. The sooner that information can be distributed, the quicker cases can be solved.
Distrust of authorities, incorrectly classifying deaths as suicides or misidentifying the race of the victims all contribute to suspected underreporting, likely making the problem bigger than anyone knows.
The hope is that Minnesota’s focus on this problem and the steps being taken to tackle it will serve as a model for other states to do the same.
A coordinated effort and continuing awareness are needed to put a stop to targeting Indigenous women as victims of violence.