In 2014, Tina Fontaine, a member of the Sagkeeng First Nation in Canada was murdered. Her death garnered national attention as it highlighted the alarmingly high rate of violence against indigenous women in Canada. Such violence prompted the creation of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. After nearly three years of investigation, a report was published earlier this week that calls the treatment of indigenous women “a genocide.” The report included policy recommendations that seek to mitigate the violence and address its causes.
As in Canada, native women in the United States disproportionately experience violence. A report conducted by the Department of Justice (DOJ) found that some counties in the U.S. have murder rates against indigenous women that are more than ten times the national average. Moreover, limited data and reporting on crimes against indigenous women and girls in the United States make it more difficult to understand the extent of the violence. According to a report by the Urban Indian Health Institute, 5,712 cases of missing or murdered indigenous women and girls were reported to the National Crime Information Center, but the DOJ only recorded 116 cases. To improve DOJ’s policies, Savanna’s Act (S. 227 / H.R. 2733) was introduced by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Representative Norma Torres (D-CA-35). The bill would require the DOJ to reassess how it maintains and collects data on missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.
Ending gender based violence against all women especially those in communities that have historically been marginalized is critical not only to ensuring all people live safe lives but especially to improving women’s reproductive health. Gender-based violence is associated with poor reproductive health outcomes such as increased risk of miscarriage, prematurity, and low-birth weight. To end such violence against native women, the United States must confront the historical and contemporary violence against indigenous women and girls and the oppression of indigenous communities across North America.