The Case of the MMIW
By Rep. Dusty Johnson
September 24, 2021
If you turned on the news this week or scrolled through social media, it is likely that you came across the tragic story of 22-year-old Gabby Petito whose body was found in Wyoming this week. A little less than two weeks ago, Petito’s family filed a missing person’s report when her fiancé returned home to Florida from a cross-country road trip without her.
Unfortunately, Gabby’s tragic story is not unique. Thousands of people go missing each year, and many cases go unsolved, leaving grieving loved ones with unanswered questions, a lack of closure, and no justice.
Across our nation, a disproportionate number of indigenous women and girls go missing or are murdered. In South Dakota alone, 65% of missing persons are Native Americans despite making up only 9% of the population. Of the 103 persons currently missing in the state, one-third are indigenous women.
A growing movement marked by a red handprint is the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) movement, a group dedicated to spreading awareness, providing support to families, and demanding justice for these women and girls.
The statistics are startling. On some reservations, Native American women are murdered at a rate more than 10 times the national average. Many cases go unsolved due to a lack of resources, underreporting, poor data collection, and jurisdictional difficulties between tribal, local and state police.
Last year, I was proud to see the Savanna’s Act signed into law. It took years to get this legislation across the finish line and because of it, the Department of Justice is now required to assess and develop law enforcement and justice protocols to address cases involving missing or murdered indigenous people. The Savanna’s Act was named after Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, a member of the Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe who was violently murdered in 2017.
Our nation is making strides but there’s more to be done. In 2019, President Trump signed an executive order to form The Task Force on Missing and Murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives. Earlier this year, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, the first Native American to serve as a cabinet secretary, established a Missing and Murdered Unit, an interagency agency team aimed at collaboratively combating this tragic crisis.
As a Member of Congress, I am committed to supporting indigenous women and girls and working to end this horrible problem plaguing our indigenous communities.