An invisible crisis is surfacing – PUBLIC HEALTH INSIDER

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By Helena Darrow (Chiricahua Apache) Intern, Public Health Chronic Diseases and Injury Prevention

For many years, Indigenous communities have raised alarms about missing and murdered Indigenous women and people in their communities. These grassroots advocacy efforts became known internationally as the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People Movement (MMIWP). In recent years, this advocacy has led to more and more authorities getting involved in the management of the crisis.

Violence against tribal peoples is not a new event. It results from pernicious responses and policies at multiple levels of government that ignore the lived experiences of Indigenous peoples in the US and Washington state. It is important to recognize the damage these institutions are causing and the impact of racism as we work to end this crisis.

Data on violence in Alaskan Native American and Native American communities

Ribbon skirts sewn by Marita Growing Thunder while she was in high school are on display at the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center. Photo by Lyndsey Brolini.

While there are significant gaps in data on Native Americans and Alaska Natives (AI/AN), available data shows that AI/AN people face high rates of violence. For example, the US National Institute of Justice reports that 84% of AI/AN women experience violence in their lifetime. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cites homicide as one of the leading causes of death for AI/AN women and the fifth leading cause of death for AI/AN men.

Organizations such as Data for Indigenous Justice and the Urban Indian Health Institute, among others, are working to better study the MMIWP crisis using data. For example, a 2018 report by Seattle’s Urban Indian Health Institute (UIHI) brought this issue to the forefront of conversations, particularly in Washington state. Researchers found that Washington state had one of the highest MMIW cases compared to other states. Additionally, Seattle had the highest number of MMIW cases among the 71 cities surveyed, underscoring the depth of this problem in Native American communities and Washington state.

Washington state efforts to address the issue

As a result, the Washington state government is working to create new grant programs to provide services to Indigenous families and human trafficking survivors, and to introduce a “missing Indigenous people alert” like silver alerts.

And in December 2021, Washington State established a taskforce to assess systemic causes of the MMIWP crisis and identify effective solutions. The task force is comprised of representatives from Washington state tribes, urban Native American organizations, community members and Washington state legislators. Last month, the MMIWP Task Force published its first report with ten key recommendations that represent the first steps towards finding a solution together.

These recommendations range from improving and standardizing data collection and searches to improving communication and collaboration between law enforcement agencies and the families of the missing or murdered. And the creation of a Cold Case Investigation Unit that focuses on MMIWP cold cases, among other recommendations.

Public Health Actions in Seattle and King County

Work at Public Health – Seattle & King County is consistent with several of the recommendations, such as: B. Using inclusive language to reflect survivor experiences and address data collection and reporting issues for smaller populations. For example, the Community Health Indicators dashboard now shows disaggregated race and ethnicity data, which can be viewed individually or in combination. In addition, the Best Starts for Kids Health Survey and Community Cafes leverage community building, such as the indigenous community, to conduct community-led data collection and interpretation. Although these data types are not available for every topic, they show how more comprehensive data reporting can be achieved for MMIWP in public health.

Additionally, Indigenous advocacy groups and community organizations continue to provide support and recognition for MMIWP and survivors and their families. These organizations continue to demonstrate the resilience and strength of the native community through their work to end the MMIWP crisis. See the list below for more information.

While there is still a long way to go to fully address the MMIWP crisis, the work of Indigenous peoples and organizations and Washington State are steps in the right direction. Everyone can support those affected by MMIWP and help end this crisis in Seattle and King County by:

Released September 19, 2022

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