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Bill to gather data on missing Native women gets Nebraska hearing

January 25, 2019 GMT

April Marie Satchell brought her granddaughter India to the Nebraska Capitol on Thursday to talk about the dangers Native women and girls face from rape and murder.

“Right now, our lives don’t matter,” she told the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee.

She must pass on to her granddaughter, her legacy, those life lessons on the dangers of being Native and female, she said, testifying on a bill (LB154) that would direct the Nebraska State Patrol to collect data concerning missing Native women.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that murder is the third-leading cause of death among American Indian and Alaska Native women, and that rates of violence on reservations can be up to 10 times higher than the national average.

The Urban Indian Health Institute identified 506 unique cases of missing and murdered American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls across 71 selected cities — 25 percent were missing persons cases, 56 percent were murder cases and 19 percent had an unknown status.

The youngest victim was under 1 year old and the oldest was 83.

Nebraska ranked seventh-highest, and Omaha is in the top 10, for missing indigenous women cases.

“How do we show that our lives matter?” Satchell said.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon, seeks to answer why Native women turn up missing far more than the national average for every other demographic. He will amend it, he said, to also include Native children.

It would involve multiple agencies of tribal, state and federal governments. The goal is to determine the scope of the problem, identify barriers and find solutions. The study would be submitted to the Legislature by June 1, 2020.

It’s a unique situation, he said, because many times the tribal police and Bureau of Indian Affairs do not communicate. Local county law enforcement do not coordinate, and neither do the State Patrol and federal agencies, leaving people to fall through the cracks without a way to track the numbers and have the accountability needed, Brewer said.

Because a reservation can be a closed society, he said, when people leave sometimes there’s no network to follow them or account for them. And if they go missing, no one realizes it.

Thirteen women in Nebraska may be missing at this time, but it’s hard to know, he said.

Chandra Michelle Walker, chair of the Native caucus of the Democratic Party, said although one out of three women experience violence, for Native women the statistic is four out of five.

“It doesn’t surprise me because for a long time I thought that was the norm,” she said. “I’m a survivor of rape and domestic violence. I get stalked and harassed. And I thought that was the norm until I realized it wasn’t the norm.”

It’s heartbreaking, she said, that the past couple of years almost every week she has shared on social media that another Native girl or woman has gone missing, and it doesn’t get national media attention.

A lot of it has to do with sex trafficking, she said.

Leo Yankton, a Native man who advocates on behalf of his people, made the point to the committee that the gathering of these statistics will have a ripple effect and help to shine light on other criminal activity in the state and the country.

“Because I-80 is a drug corridor. We’ve known that for a long time,” Yankton said. “This would affect drug cartels. This would affect drug rings, child pornography rings.”

This bill, he told the committee, would create more thorough law enforcement efforts that help other victims besides just Native women, he said.

“And I think that’s extremely important,” Yankton said.