Alaska’s statistics for murder and sexual assault show Native women as the most victimized demographic. Survivors and families say racism prevents cases from being properly investigated.
A rally yesterday in Fairbanks drew a crowd concerned about missing and murdered Native women.
A giant wooden map of Alaska, with a red ribbon marking most communities, represented the hundreds of women lost.
It was a backdrop for the rally podium, behind which was a row of empty red dresses – more representation of the missing.
“I remember as a little girl, hearing the stories, well ‘we don’t know whatever happened to her,’ to my aunt or my cousin. Or… they’re just… they’re gone.”
That’s Tammy Jerue, the Executive Director of the Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center. She spoke to the assembly of about 150 people in Golden Heart Plaza.
“We have no closure with many of the women who die unexpectedly and unnaturally; the manner of death, while it is too often considered suspicious, and often with visible injuries, is classified as accidental, suicidal, or undetermined.”
The phenomenon of missing and murdered women, whose cases don’t get investigated, is why the rally was held.
Rina Kowalski organized the rally with others in “Native Movement,” a nation-wide group with a local chapter.
“We have the highest sexual assault and domestic violence rates. Indigenous People are the main demographic.”
For the last three years, Alaska ranked first as the state with the highest homicide rate among women killed by men. Our proportion of three per 100,000 is more than double the national average.
Last year, the Urban Indian Health Institute identified the state of Alaska as the fourth-leading state for the number of cases -- not the proportion of cases, of MMIWG. That number is reported as 52.
But there are problems with these data.
“A lot of it is anecdotal, because there’s not a lot of statistics, that’s one of the struggles. Is having accurate statistics.”
Jerue encouraged participants to look up the NamUs database, N-A-M-U-S the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System. She said family and friends of missing people can contribute information. It is part of the National Institute of Justice, but is not linked to other databases investigators might use.
In October of 2017, Senator Lisa Murkowski, cosponsored (S.1942), the first piece of federal legislation specifically addressing the data problem with Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Speaking about the issue again Last fall, U.S. Sen. Murkowski opened with remarks about the cases of Sophie Sergie, who was raped and murdered in Fairbanks and 10-year-old Ashley Johnson-Barr, who was raped and murdered in Kotzebue.
“You don’t forget those stories. You don’t forget those beautiful 10-year olds, or Sophie, as a college student.”
The bill was passed out of the Senate last December but has not moved in the U.S. House.
The data collection problem is not going away, and there are many other barriers to fast complete investigations, such as racism and a lack of cultural information. Shirley Moses, director of the Healing Native Hearts Coalition, says she would like to remove the two-day wait for police to look into missing persons cases.
“If they approach law enforcement asking for assistance, that the 48-hour wait be waived, and that they initiate investigation right away, because those are crucial times, those first 48 hours.”
Participants at the rally marched to Fairbanks City Hall, chanting.