The phenomenon of missing and murdered native women can really be explained in one word: apathy. The Canadian and American governments do not seem to be concerned with the well-being of these women, which is why they continue to disappear. Canada created a $54 million dollar inquiry commission into missing and murdered native women, yet they still don’t have an active database. The commission is universally seen as a failure, and over 20 members have quit since its 2016 inauguration. The latest member to quit was Breen Ouellette, a commission counsel. In his resignation letter, he said, “I cannot remain part of a process which is speeding toward failure.”
America has also struggled to protect these women. The databases we use are almost entirely dependent on law enforcement submissions. Yet, it is not mandatory for law enforcement to submit case files to these databases. So effectively, they will always remain incomplete. The FBI’s database, NCIC, is so expensive and tedious that most police departments rarely use it.
Canada and America’s missing person data on native women was so incomplete that a private citizen decided to make one herself. I had the pleasure of interviewing this woman and learned quite a lot. Annita Lucchesi is a geographer and cartographer who created a publicly accessible database for missing and murdered native women. The database looks at cases from America and Canada and is collected from various sources such as news reports, police files, government databases, and information from family members. She currently has over 2,501 cases, some even going back to the year 1900.
In our interview we discussed a law I’d never previously heard of; The Major Crimes Act. This law is proof of the American government’s legislative incompetence. The Major Crimes Act forces the tribal police to transfer any major crime committed by a native to the FBI, including assault, murder, rape, etc. This means that tribal law enforcement can’t enforce their own laws against their own people.
If you think that that’s terrible and ineffective, just wait, it gets worse. In 2013, the Violence Against Women Act was created in part to help tribal police bring non-natives to justice. Up until that point, you could do nearly anything on an Indian reservation and possibly not face criminal prosecution. After the 2013 law… things basically remained the same.
The jurisdiction becomes complicated and non-natives could avoid being prosecuted for their crimes, including sexual assault. What’s insane about this law is the fact that 77 percent of residents on tribal lands are non-natives. To put this into perspective, that’s like having almost three-fourths of your neighbors being able to get away with assault because of a legislative loophole. Sounds scary, right? This is an everyday reality for these people, and the government does not seem to be taking any real strides towards correcting it.
When asked what can be done to stop the violence against native women, Annita believed that the solution was simple. She said the easiest way to stop these women from disappearing or dying, is to give tribal police complete jurisdiction over native land. According to her, since America signed a treaty with the native tribes, under international law they should be considered a sovereign nation. Currently, native tribes are legally considered “semi-sovereign domestic dependents.”
She believes that allowing reservations to be independent nations would allow them to fully prosecute offenders to the full extent of the law. With the current data, it seems that tribal police would be more effective than the FBI.
For one thing, tribal police live on the reservation and don’t need to travel. Tribal police know the land, as well as the people. I also believe that tribal courts will be more effective than federal courts. In 2011, the Justice Department chose not to prosecute 65 percent of rape cases reported on reservations. I’m not an expert in tribal law, but I’m relatively sure they can do better than that.
Once tribes are given full law enforcement powers, they should focus on stopping sex trafficking and domestic violence. These two problems have contributed extensively to the disappearance and murder of these women. More than 50 percent of Canada’s sex trafficking victims are indigenous.
In America, the Senate actually created a committee to investigate a large amount of sex trafficking on Indian reservations. They uncovered that from 2013 to 2015, there were over 6,000 sex trafficking investigations that resulted in 1,000 prosecutions. However, this information was only for the general population. When it came to the native population, there were only 14 federal human trafficking investigations and two prosecutions. Many of the johns cannot be prosecuted in tribal court anyways, because they are non-native. The report states that 78 percent of buyers were white or European-American. Essentially, many of these women live in a never-ending cycle of legalized victimization.
Domestic violence is commonplace for native women. Annita herself has spoken about her experiences with domestic violence. For example, 54 percent of native Canadian women reported experiencing severe forms of domestic violence. This includes being beaten, choked, shot at, sexually assaulted, etc. by a spouse or partner. 84 percent of native American women experienced some form of domestic violence throughout their lifetime, according to a National Institute of Justice-funded study.
Additionally, 84 percent of Native American sex trafficking victims, experienced some form of violence while prostituting. Many believe the high rate of domestic violence is related to the large number of non-natives living on tribal lands. 88 percent of violence against tribal women is committed by non-natives, and 77 percent of occupants on tribal lands are non-natives. This means that tribal police cannot prosecute many of these abusers.
It is apparent from the data I collected that America and Canada care very little about native issues. The only people that can be trusted to focus on native issues are the natives themselves. There also needs to be a push for non-natives to volunteer and spread the word of these injustices. If you want to get started volunteering, you can help Annita with her database. She’ll be very excited to see you there.