• Notes From The Frontier

The Mystery of Missing & Murdered Native American Women

SPECIAL NOTE: This post may be an upsetting for some to read. It is a departure from our regular Notes from the Frontier 1800s-era history posts. It is modern-day history but, sadly, a continuum of the historical precedents set in motion centuries ago that continue to haunt indigenous populations today. I debated whether I should do a post on this topic. But, in the end, I decided that frontier history lovers care about Native American heritage, past and present. And Notes from the Frontier has many Native readers who will certainly care.

Just a couple of days ago, I read about two heartbreaking cases of native girls, a 7-year-old Blackfoot child and a 16-year-old Crow teen girl, who were both abducted, attacked, then abandoned to freeze to death in the mountains. These two girls are part of a horrible trend of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.

Their rate of murdered and missing Native American women is ten times the national average and the highest of any demographic in North America. This trend is equally horrific in both the United States and Canada. What is also tragic is that there has not been an organized database or coordinated effort to track murdered and missing indigenous women and girls. Investigations of the crimes are also complicated by the fact that many crimes take place on reservations and jurisdictional problems between Native, area and state police and the FBI complicates investigations.

In 2016, the National Crime Information Center reported 5,712 missing Native American women and girls in their database. However, only 116 of those cases had been recorded in the United States Department of Justice’s missing persons database.

Who exactly are the perpetrators of these horrible crimes remains a mystery. The causes of such a broad continental trend are most probably multitudinous. But developing forensic investigations are focusing especially on the phenomenon of “man camps,” that are often located in isolated Western regions near reservations. These camps are huge work camps of modular housing for predominantly male workers for large mines, fracking and pipeline operations. Some camps house up to a thousand men. Although the research is ongoing, some specific areas, like the Tar Sands in Alberta, Canada, and eastern Montana and western North Dakota, known as the Bakken oil fields, as well as areas along the Keystone Pipeline, have seen especially high rates of missing and murdered Native women and girls. Also coinciding with these camps are high rates of sexual violence and human trafficking.

Both Canadian and American law enforcement has recognized that these man-camps are hotbeds of violence. But policing them is again, a jurisdictional problem. A 1978 Supreme Court decision prevents tribal police from charging non-tribal citizens of crimes. So the responsibility for policing has shifted wholly to county sheriffs and the FBI.

What is clear is that the perpetrators are targeting Native women and girls who are often isolated in rural areas, many of them poor, with few resources. They are viewed as expendable. It is the wild west, but with no sheriff and little justice. Native women and girls are especially victims of this violence and it is happening today.

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-Native Americans: Back from the Brink



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