Biden vows to prioritise issue of murdered or missing Native American women and girls

Danielle Zoellner
·3-min read
<p></p> (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

Joe Biden has vowed to prioritise the growing issue of murdered or missing Native American women and girls in his latest presidential proclamation.

Released one day before Murdered Indigenous Persons Awareness Day on 5 May, it vows to address the problem of thousands of Native American women being kidnapped or murdered throughout the United States.

"Our failure to allocate the necessary resources and muster the necessary commitment to addressing and preventing this ongoing tragedy not only demeans the dignity and humanity of each person who goes missing or is murdered, it sends pain and shockwaves across our Tribal communities," Mr Biden said in his proclamation.

For the last few years, 5 May has been named Murdered Indigenous Persons Awareness Day after more and more advocates raised awareness about the epidemic that currently plagues their communities.

In the United States, homicide is the third-leading cause of death among Native American women. They are also murdered at a rate as high as 10 times more than the average US resident, according to the Justice Department.

More than 5,000 Indigenous women are missing and about 56 per cent have experienced domestic violence.

While this issue has been getting more coverage in recent years, experts have argued the violence against Indigenous women has gone back decades.

Deb Haaland, Mr Biden's secretary of the Interior Department, made history by becoming the first Native American to serve as a cabinet secretary. Previously, she has called the violence against Indigenous women an epidemic.

"The epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women has been overlooked for far too long, but we're finally giving a voice to this silent crisis. When your community is at risk – when it could be your daughter, your sister or your mom – the issue demands urgency," Ms Haaland wrote in an op-ed published in Native News Online in 2019. At the time, she was serving as a member in Congress.

"The attention this issue has received wouldn't have been possible without the women in Indian Country saying, 'enough is enough, we deserve to feel safe too.' It was a call for Congress to direct real resources to the problem," she added.

Two weeks after Ms Haaland was confirmed as interior secretary, her office announced the formation of a new Missing & Murdered Unit (MMU) within the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The MMU will be responsible for using federal resources to support investigations into unsolved cases of missing and murdered Negative Americans, while also assisting active investigations. This unit has built on a 2019 task force created under the Trump administration entitled Operation Lady Justice.

Advocates have supported the increased resources towards investigating current and unsolved cases, but they have also asked for support from the federal government in preventing future incidents and helping the communities move forward.

"I am further committed to addressing the underlying causes behind those numbers, including – among others – sexual violence, human trafficking, domestic violence, violent crime, systemic racism, economic disparities, and substance use and addiction," Mr Biden said in the proclamation.

"The challenges in Tribal communities are best met by solutions that are informed and shaped by Tribal leaders and Tribal governments," he added.

Under Mr Biden's proposed American Rescue Plan, Native American tribes and territories would receive $35m in grants that would provide "temporary housing, assistance, and supportive services to victims of domestic and dating violence". But it would be up to Congress whether this funding will receive enough votes.

“I call on all Americans and ask all levels of government to support Tribal governments and Tribal communities’ efforts to increase awareness of the issue of missing and murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives through appropriate programs and activities,” Mr Biden said.

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