Gathering Shines Spotlight on Alarming Violence Against Native Women

“The violence against Native women is a human rights issue and it’s hundreds of years past due” for tribes, state and federal governments to work to eradicate it, said Lisa Brunner, founding member of the Violence Against Women Task Force for the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI).

The numbers are grim: The murder rate of Native women is 10 times higher than the national average. One in 3 Native women have been raped. Because of jurisdictional complexities, non-natives accused of rape often escape prosecution. Non-natives can’t be tried in Native courts and federal courts don’t try many rape cases.

“(Native people) are living in a socially and economically dysfunctional state, we can’t ignore that. We can’t ignore what our children go through with drug addiction and violence. We can’t just talk about the positive things, ignoring the things we aren’t doing to eradicate those situations,” said Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Chairman Mark N. Fox in his opening remarks at First Nations Day on Oct. 6 at the North Dakota Heritage Center in Bismarck.

“Native women live their lives in the dangerous intersections of gender and race. It’s violence that is rooted in colonialism. I thank Chairman for his words because they were the words of truth,” Brunner said.

She hopes the public will motivate lawmakers to hold a national inquiry into the violence against Native women.
Bismarck Chief of Police Dan Donlin said most homicides result from domestic violence. In 2016, 27 percent of arrests stemming from domestic violence calls were Native Americans, though they are only 5 percent of the city’s population.

“We need that number to come down,” Donlin said.

Native women face more than domestic violence in North Dakota, they are often the victims of human trafficking.

“There’s a racist notion that brown people are coming to North Dakota to steal the little blond children. That’s not the case. The women I work with are women of minority,” said Amy Jacobson, who works to combat human trafficking with a program called Youthworks. She said she hasn’t worked a single case where the trafficker was Native American.

She said that when people think of prostitution they don’t think of human trafficking but that’s really what is happening.

“There may be isolated woman who prostitute themselves. But every prostitute I’ve met, and I’ve met a lot of them, are victims of human trafficking. The violence they live with and the trauma they have had their whole lives is overwhelming,” Jacobson said.