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Native American women are being murdered and sexually assaulted on reservations and nearby towns at higher rates than other American women. Garet Bleir. Anya Zoledziowski. News21 Staff. Their assailants are often white and other non-Native American men outside the jurisdiction of tribal law enforcement. In some U. Other possible victims have never been found. As of , there were 5, cases of missing Native American women reported to the National Crime Information Center. Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat from North Dakota, who has introduced legislation to improve how law enforcement keeps track of missing and murdered indigenous women.
More than half of Native American women have been sexually assaulted, including over a third who have been raped during their lifetime — a rate of rape nearly 2. Unlike women of every other racial group, Native American women are more likely to be sexually assaulted by people who are not Native American. A study by the University of Delaware and the University of North Carolina found that more than two-thirds of sexual assaults against indigenous women are committed by white and other non-Native American people.
But when tribal law enforcement sent sexual-abuse cases to the FBI and U. Attorney Offices, federal prosecutors declined more than two-thirds of them, according to a Government ability Office report. During the last peak of production in the Bakken oil formation, ending in , reported sexual assaults of women increased, according to a University of North Dakota study that analyzed data from CAWS North Dakota, a statewide sexual and domestic violence coalition.
Tribal law enforcement has no jurisdiction over these workers, including those living in camps built on indigenous lands to which the federal government holds title. Mosset said that community members of the MHA Nation have created Facebook s to warn residents of dangers. After a downturn for a few years, Bakken oil production is rapidly ramping up. Across the U. She has collected online reports and public records to create a database of over 2, cases of missing and murdered indigenous women from across the U. Nearly half of the victims are from the U.
Her sister said she reached out to the Bureau of Indian Affairs for help, but after nine months of searching, she received no new information. Over a year since her disappearance, Loring HeavyRunner is still missing. She was really proud to be Blackfeet. Lucchesi said she was once raped by a non-indigenous man who made comments about her looking like Pocahontas, even though they look nothing alike, she said. She also recalled that later, when she was walking through Spokane, Washington, on her way back from a concert with her friends, she was confronted by a white man who insisted on paying them for sex.
ASU professor Bennett has researched the race of perpetrators and the use of racist slurs during sexual assaults targeting indigenous women. She believes that they should be considered in most cases to be hate crimes. Over 2, Native Americans live in Missoula, Montana, which sits south of Flathead Nation nestled between rolling mountain ranges. One of those residents was Lonette Keehner, a year-old Native American woman, originally from the Blackfeet Nation in Montana, who worked as a housekeeper at the Super 8 Motel near her home.
Her two children remember her as a loving mother and hard worker. On December 21, , while Keehner stripped a suite clean, Scott Price and Sarah McKnight entered the room, demanding the car keys to her red Chevrolet Malibu, according to court documents. When McKnight fled to start the vehicle, Price assaulted Keehner, stole her master key to the hotel and forced her into a new room, fatally stabbing her multiple times in the process. During the investigation, McKnight said Price killed Keehner because she was Native American, according to a court report. Another record shows that they both expressed white supremacist beliefs online through Facebook.
Jason Marks, one of the prosecutors during the trial, pointed to multiple factors in the case that made hate crime characterization difficult. Price and McKnight had consumed methamphetamines before they committed the crime. Price was already wanted by police for killing a white man in Miles City, Montana days before.
Racism and sexism contribute to the impression that indigenous women are assailable women, said Barbara Perry, a professor at the University Of Ontario Institute of Technology who researches and writes on hate crimes targeting Native American women. Brunner, who is also an Anishinaabe member of White Earth Nation in Minnesota, told News21 that she has survived numerous sexual assaults by non-Native and Native American men alike, which drove her to advocate for the past 20 years on behalf of other victimized Native American women.
That is a hate crime. We are being targeted for who we are as native women. Brunner wanted to be sure that her daughters understand the dangers associated with being Native American and female. When Brunner called tribal law enforcement, an officer took the statement over the phone and told Brunner they could do a forensic interview in Fargo, North Dakota, weeks later. Uncomfortable with the long wait time, Brunner called her uncle, who at the time was the police chief, and got a forensic interview the next day.
However, the act does not cover violent crimes committed by non-native people who do not know their victims; those cases are forwarded to the federal government. The Department of Justice publishes the annual Tribal Law and Order Act report, listing the of investigations and prosecutions on indigenous nations and reservations based on data from the FBI and the U. Attorney Offices. About 65 percent of criminal investigations opened by the FBI in reservations were referred for prosecution, according to the TLOA report. Of the investigations that were closed without referral for prosecution, one of the most frequent reason was due to insufficient evidence to determine whether a crime occurred.
Members of the Fort Peck Reservation in Montana said they are concerned about the upcoming Keystone XL pipeline, which will carry oil from western Canada through Montana into Illinois and Texas, and bring more workers into the area to build it. TransCanada plans to build man camps for the project this fall, with pipeline construction starting in , according to a letter from the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs to the Fort Peck Reservation. TransCanada did not respond to multiple requests for comment from News One member of the Fort Peck Reservation Tribal Council recently posted on social media that, according to a meeting with TransCanada, there are tentative plans to set up a man camp 40 miles from the reservation in Hinsdale, Montana, that will house to pipeline workers.
The council member added that TransCanada plans to conduct background checks, drug-test workers and institute a code of conduct. Chris Martinez, an oil worker in Williston, blamed the lack of background checks for the culture of racism demonstrated during production peaks in the Bakken formation. Angeline Cheek, a Hunkpapa Lakota and Oglala Sioux activist, community organizer and teacher living in Fort Peck Reservation, took part in a march this spring in Scobey, Montana, to protest the Keystone XL pipeline and the expected man camps.
A group of Scobey residents followed the protesters and yelled at them, saying the pipeline was going through whether they liked it or not. At one point, the residents threatened to scalp Cheek, while local farmers watched the marchers with guns pointed to the sky, Cheek said. During the Bakken oil boom, Cheek said, oil workers had harassed her, her family and friends with racial slurs and threats multiple times. These experiences have inspired Cheek to double down on her efforts to advocate against resource extraction taking place in and around Native American communities and man camps.
Last month, she organized an anti-man camp walk in Poplar with the intention to hold more marches in various communities throughout the Fort Peck Indian Reservation to spread awareness on what she feels are the dangers associated with the man camps coming into the area. Show Comments. She said prosecutors should have pushed harder for a hate crime charge in the death of her mother, Lonette Keehner.
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Murdered and missing Native American women challenge police and courts