Utah is among the top 10 states with the most cases of missing and murdered indigenous women and children, according to a recent report by a Native American health group.
About a quarter of American Indians and Alaska Natives in the U.S. live in urban areas, according to the report by the Urban Indian Health Institute looking at 506 cases of missing and murdered indigenous women in 71 U.S. cities. Eighty percent of those cases occurred since 2000.
All 24 cases of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in the state occurred in Salt Lake, tying the city with Omaha, Nebraska for sixth most cases among U.S. cities.
Of those Utah cases, 22 are classified as murders while one is considered a missing person case and another is ‘unknown’ because the health institute could not verify if the victim was found safe or deceased.
The Salt Lake City Police Department said it could not immediately find any information on the cases.
Jennifer Boyce with PANDOS, a local Native rights group, talked on Thursday about the cases and her own personal experience with the issue at an event at Westminster College.
Boyce shared that four of her family members were murdered, and one of her cousins is a rape victim.
“So this is happening everywhere and there is rarely a Native woman that you will find that who doesn’t know someone or is related to someone who is missing or who has gone missing,” she said.
One case noted in the report was the 2010 death of Deborah Haudley at a Salt Lake City motel. Her boyfriend, Oscar Eduardo Reyes, told police he struck Haudley twice the night before she died. Reyes pleaded guilty in March 2011 to third-degree felony homicide by assault.
Another indigenous women, Maranny Hatalie Holiday, was murdered in 2015 on the Navajo Reservation in San Juan County. Timothy Lee Smith, her brother-in-law, was sentenced to nearly 22 years in federal prison after pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.
Due to a lack of documentation by government agencies, the authors of the report estimate there may be more cases across the country that can’t be counted. But a federally funded nonprofit is trying to tabulate these crimes in Utah.
The nonprofit Restoring Ancestral Winds has launched an effort to collect data on violence against Native women, girls and queer people who are members of Utah’s indigenous groups, said Moroni Benally, a coordinator with the nonprofit. He said the organization, which is funded by the U.S. Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women, expects to release its findings in spring 2019.
Restoring Ancestral Winds will work with the eight tribes in the state including the Ute, Paiute and Goshute tribes and examine the prevalence of violence occurring within those communities. It will also assess what services tribal, state and federal organizations are providing to help the victims of violence heal.
Last week, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs unanimously passed a bill called Savanna’s Act that will require the U.S. Justice Department file an annual report on the number of missing and murdered Indigenous women.
U.S. Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, are requesting a hearing be scheduled to discuss the issue highlight in the report.