Seeking Justice: Unraveling Trauma for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls


Though it is uncomfortable to learn that the country you love is capable of committing such acts, the first step to justice is acknowledging these painful truths and gaining a full understanding of their impacts so that we can unravel the threads of trauma and injustice that linger Secretary Haaland, 2021

The United States was founded through the violence and dehumanization of the indigenous first peoples. Through the precept of “Divine Right,” Europeans came to these shores and raped, murdered, and enslaved the men, women, and children of thousands of tribes that had called this land theirs for centuries. This type of violent and regressive nation-building continues to this day. Most recently, Haaland v. Brackeen matter was in front of the Supreme Court to determine whether various provisions of the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 are constitutional. While that matter was decided in favor of the Tribes, the fact remains that generations of Native American children were stolen from their families and tribes for over a century. They were placed in schools meant to erase their heritage, language, and cultural connections. They were later taken from their families—often on flimsy terms—to be placed with non-native families. This modern erasure of a people’s future only further dehumanizes and explains why the thousands of women, children, men, and 2 Spirit people who have gone missing or murdered are largely ignored.  

Colonization and nation-building predicated the dehumanization and victimization of those who inhabited the land the colonizers stole. This gross miscarriage of justice has continued largely unabated to this day. Indigenous Peoples around the world are reduced to caricatures and sport team mascots and remain dehumanized by the colonizer. “Indigenous peoples often have much in common with other neglected segments of societies (i.e., lack of political representation and participation, economic marginalization, poverty, lack of access to social services, and discrimination). Despite their cultural differences, the diverse indigenous peoples share common problems regarding protecting their rights. They strive for recognition of their identities, their ways of life, and right to traditional lands, territories, and natural resources.” (UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous People) 

Prior to 2013, non-native domestic abusers, rapists, and traffickers were under-reported and under-prosecuted in part because Tribal Police and Prosecutors lacked the jurisdiction to prosecute non-native perpetrators. This further created an environment that emboldened non-native men to cause harm and even death to native populations. Trafficking is often a very difficult crime to prosecute; it becomes impossible when those criminals can not be prosecuted due to an imbalance in the laws of the land. There has been some progress and some movement on policy since the passing of the “2018 Savanna’s Act” and “2020 Not Invisible Act” (see below). However, if local and Tribal law enforcement is underfunded or if non-tribal law enforcement lacks empathy or care, this is mute, and the murders and trafficking will continue.  

The Anti-Human Trafficking community has not done enough to address the issue of murdered and missing indigenous women nor provide reparations for the clear evidence of Human Trafficking and forced labor present in our borders since the founding of this nation. The North American Anti-Human Trafficking community has a duty of care; we must ensure that this conversation, funding, and services for future generation voices, current-day survivors, and victims’ families are elevated and highlighted. 

Indigenous 2LGBTQ+ participants in 2021 Sovereign Bodies Institute Study:  

  • 60% have experienced domestic violence
    • 53% have experienced intimate partner violence
    • 40% have experienced child abuse  
    • 20% have experienced trafficking or survival sex work  
    • 93% have experienced sexual assault  
    • 87% have experienced two or more forms of violence 
Artist Credit: Elizabeth Syke

Savanna’s Act S.1942: Shown Here: 
Passed Senate amended (12/06/2018) 

Savanna’s Act 

This bill directs the Department of Justice (DOJ) to review, revise, and develop law enforcement and justice protocols to address missing and murdered Indians. 

Among other things, DOJ must: 

  • Provide training to law enforcement agencies on how to record tribal enrollment for victims in federal databases, 
  • Conduct outreach to Indian tribes regarding the ability to enter information through the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System or other public portals, 
  • Develop guidelines for responding to cases of missing and murdered Indians, and 
  • Report statistics on missing and murdered Indians. 

Federal law enforcement agencies must modify their guidelines to incorporate the guidelines developed by DOJ. 

The FBI must include gender in its annual statistics on missing and unidentified persons published on its website. 

Missing and Murdered Unit- Bureau of Indian Affairs: H.R. 2438, the ‘‘Not Invisible Act of 2020,’’ is a congressional act designed to address the crisis of violence and sexual violence committed against American Indian and Alaska Native men and women. The Act brings together a committee of law enforcement, tribal authorities, federal partners, and more to study and discuss solutions to the crisis of murdered and missing Indigenous women and to establish better systems of coordination.  

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