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GAO tells feds to improve its response to the crisis of violence against Indigenous women

US Department of Interior

A new report from the Government Accountability Office has found that the federal government isn’t doing enough to tackle the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women. It spotlights a dearth of data and agencies' failures to meet important deadlines outlined by recently passed legislation.

The non-partisan congressional watchdog's report was requested by a bipartisan group of federal lawmakers.

“The GAO has affirmed what we have known for a long time – that the federal government’s response to the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women has been inadequate and lacks a basic understanding of the scope of the crisis,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-N.M.

Research has long shown that Indigenous women suffer higher rates of violence than other women. Last year, Congress passed two laws addressing the issue – Savanna’s Act and the Not Invisible Act.

But the new GAO study shows that the Department of Justice and the Department of the Interior "have not implemented certain requirements to increase intergovernmental coordination and data collection in the two 2020 laws, which remain unfulfilled past their statutory deadlines."

For example, the agencies failed to create a joint commission to examine violent crime against Native Americans.

While the Justice Department has begun analyzing data on missing and murdered Indigenous people, it doesn’t have a plan to continue after this month.

“For a minute we were really on a roll,” said Ellie Bundy, a tribal councilwoman with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. “Good things were happening. They were committing to getting the work done. And then, nothing.”

That said, Bundy is hopeful the report lights some fire underneath the agencies. She also understands that the ongoing pandemic may have slowed efforts down. It’s also a massive crisis to confront, said Lynette Grey Bull, director of the nonprofit Not Our Native Daughters.

“It takes a lot of effort to make things happen, and not only get your staff, program and an entire government agency trained on this issue, but also to move forward and implement that,” she said.

She does believe the federal government and law enforcement are taking this issue more seriously. After the release of the report, members of Congress said the federal government must begin implementing its recommendations.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2021 Boise State Public Radio News. To see more, visit Boise State Public Radio News.

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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