OPINION: Supporting state and federal efforts to address MMIW
For too many Native women, violence is an ever-present threat. Murder is the third leading cause of death among American Indian and Alaska Native women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Our Native sisters experience rates of violence at 10 times the national average. A large majority have been victimized by non-Native perpetrators.
The grief of losing a sister, mother, niece or cousin is magnified when families feel that government officials are not doing enough to find out what happened and the case remains unsolved.
That is why I am glad that the Oklahoma Legislature approved an interim study on the issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW). Last month, the House Government Efficiency Committee heard heartbreaking testimony from victims’ advocates, researchers and family members.
I hope legislators will take what they learned and use it to create legislation that will increase investigative resources, improve data collection and ultimately stop the scourge of violence that continues to harm so many precious members of our families and communities.
At the federal level, the Department of Justice will hire 11 coordinators to respond to reports of missing and murdered Native Americans. Oklahoma will have one coordinator. The new plan also calls for the deployment of the FBI’s most advanced response capabilities when needed, improved data collection and analysis, and training to support local response efforts.
Additionally, the federal Violence Against Women Act, with language specifically protecting Native women, needs to be reauthorized, and that is something we will continue to advocate for. The Cherokee Nation passed a law expanding our tribal VAWA law to authorize prosecution of non-Indians in domestic violence cases, taking advantage of the federal VAWA authority authorizing that.
We believe these additional efforts to enhance law enforcement coordination will improve data sharing and help reduce the violence against our Native people.
Within Cherokee Nation’s sovereign government, we are committed to taking action, collaborating with others and addressing jurisdictional issues. Our Cherokee Nation Marshal Service cross deputizes with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies specifically so they can work cases on non-tribal land and even across state lines when needed.
Another important initiative is Cherokee Nation’s ONE FIRE Victim Services, which provides advocacy and legal assistance to women and men in the Cherokee Nation who are victims of crimes such as domestic abuse, sexual assault, stalking or dating violence. Victims of domestic violence or sexual assault should call ONE FIRE’s 24-hour emergency helpline at 866-458-5399 to receive help.
We plan to increase awareness and encourage advocacy through our tribal social media pages, as well as other advertising and communication outlets.
Now is the time to put a stop to this epidemic. To our federal and state partners, our community advocates, and all Cherokees and allies who are ready to take a stand, let us stand together and combine our resources and our voices to say, “No more.”