New report sheds light on missing, murdered indigenous women

VIDEO: Growing efforts to shed light on violence against Native American women

At the Women's March in January, organizers highlighted missing or murdered Native American women.

Determined to give those women a voice, the Seattle Indian Health Board spent the last 11 months collecting information on missing or murdered indigenous women and girls.

The board "really (needed) to raise awareness of the issues that our community faces, the violence our women are experiencing." said Abigail Echo-Hawk, who co-authored the report and serves as the
chief research officer at the Seattle Indian Health Board.

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Echo-Hawk says 71 percent of Native women live in cities. They surveyed 71 cities and found there were 506 missing or murdered indigenous women and girls.

Seattle topped the list of cities with the highest number of cases. Tacoma was seventh.

Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

Top 10 Cities (Highest number of cases)

Seattle, WA ( 45)   
Albuquerque, NM (37)
Anchorage, AK (31)
Tucson, AZ (31)
Billings, MT (29)
Gallup, NM (25)
Tacoma, WA (25) 
Omaha, NE (24)
Salt Lake City, UT (24)
San Francisco, CA (17)

---Urban Indian Health Institute, Seattle Indian Health Board

When ranked by state, Washington came in second.

Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

Top 10 States (Highest number of cases)

New Mexico (78)
Washington (71)  
Arizona (54)
Alaska (52)
Montana (41)
California (40)
Nebraska (33)
Utah (24)
Minnesota (20)
Oklahoma (18)

---Urban Indian Health Institute, Seattle Indian Health Board

Local cases in the data include 21-year-old Nicole Westbrook, who was murdered in Pioneer Square in April 2012. Westbrook and her boyfriend had just moved to Seattle; her killer hasn't been caught.

"Often, they weren't classifying the race or they were misclassifying it. So there were instances where someone might be classified as white when they were actually American Indian or Alaska Native," Echo-Hawk said.

She said police department data was often unclear when it came to multiracial victims.

The disappearance of Teekah Lewis is mentioned in the report. She was 3-years-old in 1999 where she went missing from a Tacoma bowling alley.

Eveona Cortez was killed in Burien last March. Cortez and a friend were killed as they stood in the walkway of an apartment complex on Ambaum Boulevard Southwest. Detectives called it a gang shooting.

Earth-Feather Sovereign is a survivor and activist.

She says Cortez was her adopted sister and that another family member was murdered this year, too.

Sovereign said she was taken when she was 14 years old and living in Portland.

"The people who stole me, they were a gang and they planned to traffic me in Hawaii," Sovereign said. "I'm very fortunate that I was brought home and I'm standing here today and that I'm able to advocate for the well-being of our people."

Sovereign worked on House Bill 2951 that will require the Washington State Patrol to come up with the data for missing Native American women in Washington by June 2019.

"This bill will help create a better database in Washington State because there's no comprehensive database here in Washington that would collectively gather data on missing Native American women.," Sovereign said.

Echo-Hawk hopes drawing attention to the numbers will find justice for the people behind them.

"I strongly believe right now Native people are very invisible and when we are invisible, it is easy to let things like this go by. If you don't know about it, you don't feel bad about it," Echo-Hawk said

Sen. Maria Cantwell, who joined the Seattle Indian Health Board to help release the report, also co-sponsored a House bill called Savanna’s Act that would improve data collection and standardize procedures across federal departments, tribes and states. The act has moved forward to the Senate for consideration.

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