A national study this year pointed to the alarming number of Native American women and girls reported missing across the nation — more than 5,700 individuals. The actual number could be higher, since many cases are thought to go unreported. States including Nebraska have rightly responded by focusing greater law enforcement attention on the issue.
It’s encouraging to see the federal government joining the effort. The U.S. Justice Department will provide $1.5 million for specialized coordinators to work with U.S. attorney’s offices with significant Native American caseloads. The agency will conduct an in-depth analysis of federal databases and its data collection practices in an effort to improve the handling of missing person cases.
State Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, called attention to the issue this year in introducing Legislative Bill 154. “The bill attempts to answer a very serious question: Why do Native American women turn up missing in numbers far more than the national average for every other demographic?” Brewer said.
Nebraska ranked seventh-highest for cases involving missing or slain Native American women and girls, in a study of 506 cases cited during discussion of Brewer’s bill. Omaha’s 24 cases were eighth-highest among the 71 cities studied. Nationwide, 25% involved missing person cases, 56% were murder cases and 19% had an unknown status. On some reservations, federal studies show women are killed at a rate more than 10 times the national average.
LB 154, which is now law, promotes cooperation among organizations to determine the size of this problem in Nebraska and develop collaborative strategies to address it. The Nebraska State Patrol is taking the lead, working with the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, tribal and local law enforcement, tribes and urban Indian organizations. The Patrol is to submit a final report to the Legislature’s Executive Board by June 1.
These are worthy efforts indeed to better address an issue well deserving of greater national attention and action.