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Native American advocates express a lack of representation in cases involving missing women

Posted at 11:19 PM, Mar 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-24 00:30:54-04

MENOMINEE NATION, Wis (NBC 26) -- The discovery of a missing women's body on the Menominee Reservation last week is reinforcing the ongoing grassroots efforts to raise awareness for missing and murdered indigenous women. The body of 22-year-old Katelyn Kelley was identified this week and on Tuesday advocates say cases of missing indigenous women are being vastly under-reported and more needs to be done to help them.

It was nearly a year ago when Wisconsin's Attorney General announced the creation of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women's Task Force. It's a group that looks into the factors contributing to higher rates of violence and murder of such women when compared to other races.

"There is not a day that goes by that I don't see a new missing person's post of an indigenous person," says Maria Haskins of Minikanaehkem Inc. who is also a Human Trafficking Outreach Coordinator.

Haskins works with women's groups to provide a safe space to talk about their loss and to organize to create awareness.

"The biggest things you're seeing across the nation is grassroots efforts, grassroots organizations making missing person protests. We have them going out and holding signs, we have them doing different awareness events."

The most recent data from the DOJ suggests there are 116 missing or murdered indigenous women in the US. But, the Urban Indian Health Institute says that number is closer to 6 thousand and many tribal advocates add that they're in crisis mode.

"I don't think we get enough media coverage at all," says Rachel Fernandez a community advocate with the Menominee Tribe.

Fernandez says media coverage for non-white folks who go missing consistently falls short when it comes to people of color.

"So, we always take matters into our own hands and do what we have to do to advocate for our families."

And while the data related to these missing women remains limited, in 2008 the DOJ did recognize that Native American women are murdered more often and experienced higher rates of sexual violence per year than women of other races.

"I have to work that much harder to protect my children to just hope and cross my fingers that they don't ever become a victim like this," adds Haskins.