Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Children
Are We Moving the Needle on Solutions and Prevention?
Part One: Trafficking
“First, there is the physical pain and never being able to forget it. [There is] the fear of having someone hold you down, the cheering and the laughter. All these noises will not leave my mind. I keep hearing it, like a ghostly voice. But the physical is nothing compared to the mental.”
These are Misty Upham’s words. She was a member of the Blackfeet tribe and an actor well on her way to stardom. She was abused as a child, raped as a young teen, and raped again early in her acting career.
She was reported missing in 2014. Police conducted a half-baked search. It was a volunteer search team of family and friends who found her body in a ravine days after she went missing. Police attributed her cause of death from blunt-force trauma due to an accidental fall or suicide.
Three years ago, I learned about the ongoing and decades-long tragedy of the murdered and missing indigenous women and children and some men (MMIWC). I can remember asking myself, how could I not have known.
At that time, most deplorable to me was the sheer volume of Indigenous victims compared to other populations and the dismal law enforcement follow-up and follow-through. The result is hundreds of thousands of cold cases that are years and decades old.
Is the MMIWC getting the attention, government support, and consistent legal action needed to bring perpetrators to justice and prevent new cases? Has there been progress in building databases since 2019? Are we moving the needle on jurisdictional roadblocks?
The Answer is Yes and No!
There is a growing international awareness that our indigenous brothers and sisters worldwide are being kidnapped, assaulted, and suffer and die disproportionately compared to other populations. State government officials, federal law enforcement, and legislators have conducted research, documented their findings, and created plans. They consolidated the hard facts concerning disappearances and murders, and the role of traffickers.
Traffickers target indigenous people, specifically. While there has been positive state and national attention, there are still barriers to deploying adequate law enforcement against abduction and violence. Sex and labor trafficking are both lucrative and insidious. Documenting and tracking persons reported missing through trafficking is faulty.
Historically, the global MMIWC phenomenon has festered for decades in Canada, the United States, Australia—anywhere indigenous communities exist. The number of missing women, children, and some males continues to grow. Man-camps are a culprit. Temporary housing sites built around oil, drilling, or mining projects located on or near-native land enable the economics of sex trafficking—demand and supply.
The Danger of Man Camps and Voices of Survivors
Journalist Brandi Moren covered this topic recently for Aljazeera. “Last June,” she wrote, “Canada’s National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls released its final report. It identified a link between “boomtown” and “man camp” environments that emerge around resource extraction projects. Violence against Indigenous women and girls and increased sex industry activities will be the result.
Read a survivor’s story.
Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Children: Moving the Needle on Solutions and Prevention Part Two will post mid- May 2021.
What can you do?