Silent Epidemic: Reflections One Year Later

One year ago, April 2017, I wrote a blog on this website titled Silent Epidemic.  I used the word Silent to denote there is currently no way for law enforcement to specify and catalog the numbers of missing and/or murdered Native American women. I used the word Epidemic to denote this is a clear and present danger to our Native population and action must be taken to eradicate, or at least delineate and truly understand, the problem.  There has been some positive movement toward helping resolve this issue; and due to the extreme importance and urgency of the topic, I feel it important to update and reiterate. 

Also, one year ago, a Senate Resolution from Montana was introduced to designate May 5, 2017, as the ‘‘National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls.” The Resolution calls on the people of the United States and interested groups to commemorate the lives of missing and murdered American Indian and Alaska Native women, both those whose cases are documented in public records and covered by the media, and those whose cases are not. As a result of the 2017 Resolution, May 5th has been adopted by many of our tribes as our National Day of Awareness…yet we must ask ourselves, what does this truly mean in terms of our understanding, and our resolution to action?

It means, as Safety Advocates, all of us possess a natural and moral obligation to protect our most vulnerable from harm.  Social workers, victim rights advocates, law enforcement, teachers, parents, grandparents – all of us in some capacity as citizens and community members – must understand, and act.

As a National Day of Awareness, it also means the entire population of our country should and must become aware of this critical situation; for it endangers and degrades quality of life, and diminishes the Spirit of these great Nations, and of each person who experiences the devastation and pain of abuse, exploitation and abduction. One would think protecting our most vulnerable should be a relatively simple task but recently it seems more and more difficult. But why?

Alarming data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that as recently as 2016, the third leading cause of death for Native women between the ages of 10 and 24 was murder,[i] and that is from documented cases only.  There are many more unknown and undocumented missing cases still open.

Additional data reveals Native women in the United States experience some of the highest rates of sexual assault in the Nation.

  • More than half of Native women will be the victim of domestic violence or sexual assault.
  • Four out of five Native women are expected to encounter violence in their lifetimes.
  • One in three Native women will be raped in their lifetime.
  • The murder rates of Native women exceed 10 times the national average in some tribal and urban communities.[ii]

The findings from the 2016 U.S. Department of Justice report comport with the data from the CDC.

  • More than four in five American Indian and Alaska Native women (84.3 percent) have experienced violence in their lifetime, including:
    • Sexual violence;
    • Physical violence by an intimate partner;
    • Stalking; and/or
    • Psychological aggression by an intimate partner.
  • More than one in three American Indian and Alaska Native women (39.8 percent) have experienced violence in the past year. [iii]


What is being done to help? 

In June of 2018, Washington State House Bill 2951 will go into effect.  This new state law directs a study be conducted to determine how to increase reporting and investigation of missing Native American women.  By December 1, 2018, the Washington State Patrol must report back to the legislature data and analysis of the number of missing Native American women in the state, identification of barriers in providing state resources to address the issue, and recommendations, including any proposed legislation that may be needed to address the problem.

This bill could very well be the catalyst needed to create the paradigm shift our Native American women have deserved for decades. Complete bipartisanship appears to be the vital component.

Minnesota is also taking this issue seriously. Just this month, April 2018, the Minnesota House Public Safety Policy and Finance Committee is listening to testimony of native women. They are there to tell their stories as part of an effort to pass a bill that would create a task force on missing and murdered Native American women in that state. Despite comprising less than one percent of Minnesota’s total population, there are still nearly 28,000 Native American women and girls in Minnesota, according to the American Community Survey.  From 1990-2016, the homicide rate for Native women in Minnesota was seven times that of white women, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. [iv]

It’s the first time the idea for such a task force has been brought to the Minnesota legislature, and so far it has garnered bipartisan support. If passed, the task force would take a big-picture look at the issue of missing and murdered Native women, including investigation and prosecution patterns, child welfare policies and coroner findings. The effort to pass this bill in Minnesota coincides with the Savanna’s Act Bill submitted by North Dakota, as well as with Washington State’s recently enacted law.

Overall, these new laws are enacted to achieve the following outcomes.

  • Improve tribal access to certain federal crime information databases.
  • Require the Attorney General, the Department of the Interior, and the Department of Health and Human Services to solicit recommendations from Tribes on improved access to local, regional, state, and federal crime information databases and criminal justice information systems.
  • Create standardized protocols for responding to cases of missing and murdered Native Americans. These protocols would take place in consultation with Tribes, which would include guidance on inter-jurisdictional cooperation among tribal, federal, state, and local law enforcement.
  • Require an annual report to Congress with data. The report would include statistics on missing and murdered Native women, since there is little data on this problem and currently no central location for retaining that information. [v]


We thank all tribes and states that have made progress in Indian Country addressing the epidemic of missing/murdered Native women, yet there is so much more we need to do.

On behalf of the AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program and the AMBER Alert in Indian Country Initiative, we look forward to sharing our experiences with you, and more importantly, learning from you and your community. We are committed to continuing our work to support and strengthen the child protection efforts of Tribal law enforcement and communities by offering top-notch training, technical assistance and resources.  

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Wa do (Wah Doe)


Do Na Da Go huh I (Doe Naw Daw Go Huh ee).


Ron Gurley M.S. Ed.