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Hundreds Of Indigenous Women Missing, Murdered In U.S. Cities, New Report Finds

Photo of Tester and Heitkamp.
Courtesy the office of Sen. Jon Tester, D-MT
Sens. Jon Tester, D-MT, Heidi Heitkamp, D-ND, and Lisa Murkowski, R-AK, help unveil a first-of-its-kind report on the number of missing and murdered indigenous women in U.S. cities.

At least 500 indigenous women have either been murdered or have disappeared from 71 U.S. cities, according to a first-of-its-kind report from a Native American health group.

The report by the Seattle-based the Urban Indian Health Institute stands out because federal law enforcement agencies don’t track these numbers. It was issued ahead of a Senate Committee on Indian Affairs vote on Savanna’s Act.

The proposed legislation would require the U.S. Justice Department file an annual report on the number of missing and murdered Indigenous women in the U.S.

The committee voted unanimously to pass Savanna’s Act. U.S. Sens. Jon Tester, D-MT, and Lisa Murkowski, R-AK, also called for a hearing on the crisis. Tester demanded that FBI director Christopher Wray and a representative from the Bureau of Indian Affairs be present.

“Let’s get them in. Let’s ask them the tough questions. Let’s make sure they’re aware that this is a huge problem out there and let’s hold them accountable,” Tester said.

Native American women make up less than 1 percent of the population but face some of the highest violence and sexual assault rates in the country. Many in the community believe they go missing or are murdered at high rates as well.

But without concrete numbers, activists say tribes, local law enforcement agencies and indigenous organizations can’t get the resources to ease this crisis.

“We are demanding that resources be allocated, we are demanding that law enforcement be held to best practices of data collection.” Abigail Echo-Hawk, executive director of the Urban Indian Health Institute, said. “Now is the time to stand. Now is the time to say no more.”

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

Nate Hegyi is the Utah reporter for the Mountain West News Bureau, based at KUER. He covers federal land management agencies, indigenous issues, and the environment. Before arriving in Salt Lake City, Nate worked at Yellowstone Public Radio, Montana Public Radio, and was an intern with NPR's Morning Edition. He received a master's in journalism from the University of Montana.
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