A resolution in the Utah Legislature would create a statewide day of awareness for the violence against indigenous women, girls and members of the LGBT community.
Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, is indigenous herself and sponsoring HCR6, a resolution which would make May 5 “Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and LGBT+ Awareness Day.”
According to Restoring Ancestral Winds representative Moroni Benally, officials know that four of every five Native American women and one in five LGBT Native Americans will be victims of physical violence. Indigenous women are 10 times more likely to be murdered in comparison to the national average, Benally said.
Benally said the data about violence against indigenous females and the LGBT community is still lacking.
“Comprehensive data on violence against these populations under tribal jurisdiction does not exist since no federal or tribal agency nor organization systematically collects this information,” Benally said. “Data on crime both on and off the tribal reservation is also lacking. This is partially due to the under-reporting of crimes to tribal and municipal authorities and partly due to under-reporting to the state and federal authorities.”
Benally said approximately 70,300 Native Americans live in Utah. The Urban Indian Health Institute released a report last November evaluating rates of murdered and missing indigenous women, girls and the LGBT community nationwide. Utah ranked eighth out of 29 states in the report, and Salt Lake City ranked ninth out of the 71 cities surveyed.
Benally said Restoring Ancestral Winds is working with the Salt Lake City Police Department and “nearly all the tribal leaders in the state” to better understand why this is the case.
“To be sure, this is not only a national, but also a statewide problem worthy of our attention. We know that raising awareness is the first and necessary, critical step toward ending this type of disproportionate violence among our communities,” Benally said. “This is not just a tribal or reservation issue, this is an issue that affects our towns, cities and state.”
Tamra Borchardt-Slayton, chairwoman of The Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, said one in two indigenous females will experience sexual violence in their lifetime and Native Americans especially are targets for human trafficking.
For members of the Paiute tribe, the topic of missing and murdered indigenous women hits close to home “and has affected every single one of our bands,” Borchardt-Slayton said.
“As an 11-year-old child in 1998, I was forced into the reality of MMIW,” she said.
Borchardt-Slayton said her aunt was murdered and discarded on the border of Utah and Arizona while she was on her way to a Native American reservation. The police refused to investigate and “treated her life with gross indifference.”
“She was a human being, a member of our community, a mother, a sister, a daughter and a loving aunt,” Borchardt-Slayton said.
Her family visited the crime scene, collected evidence and gave it to the police. They created a timeline based on surveillance footage and gave that to the police as well.
“The police refused to go and question the individuals that my family found personal effects of and considered it a cold case,” Borchardt-Slayton said. “It is still considered a cold case.”
According to Navajo Nation council delegate Nathaniel Brown, there are multiple efforts in progress to bring awareness and change to the number of murdered and missing indigenous women, girls and members of the LGBT community.
Brown is working with legislative groups and the Navajo Nation to gather data.
“This is the first step to bringing awareness to the missing and murdered indigenous women and girls and the LGBT community,” Brown said.
His reservation currently extends into Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah. In Arizona, lawmakers are working on legislation to create an organization intended to collect data on missing and murdered indigenous women.
“This will bring the latest information on how we are losing not just Native American women, but minority women in general,” Brown said.
Another phase in the plan is to create a Utah task force focused on missing and murdered indigenous women.
The Navajo Nation recently passed a law against human trafficking on Navajo land. It also works with the Arizona Human Trafficking Task Force to create laws aimed at combating issues like cyber bullying and revenge porn. The group is also working closely with the Navajo Nation Missing Persons Updates. The Navajo Nation Sexual Violence Prevention Working Group is continuing to collect data in order to produce a paper on their findings.
These efforts are “completely voluntary” by citizens, Brown said. “They’re not being paid, they’re doing this on their own. They’re the eyes and the ears looking for missing people.”
Chairman Darren Parry of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation said he was “floored” while watching a Ted Bundy documentary because of the similarities he saw between the communication flaws that helped Bundy avoid detection and similar flaws that hinder current efforts to fight the issue of murdered and missing Native Americans.
“What struck me is his ability to commit crimes in one state, and then another state and then another state, and the fact that the states couldn’t talk to each other and didn’t have the technology to communicate,” Parry said. “And that’s where we’re at today with our indigenous women.”
Parry said the lack of databases is why the resolution is so important.
“It brings awareness to something that may be 20 years behind the curve,” Parry said. “Our indigenous women are the heart and soul of our communities, as they are yours. But we’re a maternal group of people, and there’s nobody more important than our native women.”
Romero said she selected May 5 because the day is already a national holiday for murdered and missing indigenous women and girls.