“No one knows exactly how many Native women are missing or murdered. The state of Washington has the second-highest number of known cases at 71, according to a study by the Seattle-based Urban Indian Health Institute. Of those, 45 are in Seattle alone. The study, released in November 2018, is the most comprehensive report available to date. Yet its researchers believe the real count is even higher.”
“Abigail Echo-Hawk, director of the Urban Indian Health Institute, spearheaded this latest report, but it was an earlier study upon which she cut her UIHI teeth. When she took the organization’s helm in October 2016, she already knew that government databases undercounted both the number of missing and murdered indigenous women and the number of Native women who faced sexual violence. But within her first two weeks on the job, Echo-Hawk, a citizen of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma, stumbled upon a surprise—and her first big project.
As she was cleaning out her drawers, she found one small file with the results of a survey. A survey that had never been revealed publicly, but would show the extent of violence against American Indian women.
That small paper, from a 2010 study, stated that 94 percent of Native women interviewed in Seattle reported having been raped or coerced into sex. Leaders at the UIHI feared it would lead to more generalizations and stereotypes that would further harm Native women, Echo-Hawk says. The UIHI went so far as to ask the CDC not to disclose the study. Echo-Hawk was determined to get the information out.”
She conferred with staff members, searched through UIHI’s old file systems, and began the hunt for more information on this study. She had no dedicated funding for this project, but she found it through side hustles, like charging for speaking engagements.
And finally, in August 2018, she released the long-hidden study. Local media outlets jumped on that number: 94 percent. But to Echo-Hawk, the response wasn’t strong enough.
“While some awareness is being raised, there is not enough outcry. There is not enough righteous anger,” Echo-Hawk says. After a Seattle Times quote mentioned it was common knowledge that at least one member of Chief Seattle Club—a Native-led homeless services provider—is sexually assaulted every week, Echo-Hawk expected there to be people protesting in the streets. Still, nothing. “In this city, in this county, in this state, in this country, we are shown over and over again that our lives and our bodies don’t matter.”
“Earth-Feather Sovereign says that trauma is passed on from generation to generation—that when a woman goes missing, her children and extended family suffer.
While the majority of crimes against American Indian women are committed by non-Native people, tribes have almost no ability to prosecute non-Natives, even on their land. The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 provided some tribes limited rights to prosecute non-Natives in domestic violence cases; but Sovereign suspects the immunity to non-tribal members has contributed to Native women becoming even more of a target. The pattern of raping Native women and selling them into sex trafficking began centuries ago, she says, with Christopher Columbus.”
Photographs from the march by Alicia Diamond