The Colville Tribe will offer a day of awareness and prayer on May 3 at 9:00 am at the Lucy Covington Government Center, Nespelem
Just a few days before Joel Boyd and I testified before the Washington State Senate, Tribal Relations and Elections Committee in support of HB 1713, improving law enforcement response to missing and murdered indigenous women I received a very disturbing report. Another member of Council told me that they picked up a sixth-grade girl hitchhiking from Nespelem to Omak, all by herself and late at night. Why was this young tribal member girl hitching hiking so late at night on this lonely highway? As a tribal leader this was very disturbing to me and I feel that I need to understand this issue better to find improvements.
Nationwide, Indigenous people are uniting to raise awareness and offer prayer of missing and murdered Indigenous woman and girls (MMIWG). In 2016, the National Crime Information Center reported almost 6,000 reports of missing American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls. A 2018 report from the Urban Indian Health Institute identified 506 cases nationwide of Native women disappearing or being killed. These cases were from 71 selected cities across the United States with some alarming statistics: 128 were cases of missing indigenous women; 280 were cases of murdered indigenous women; 98 were cases with an ‘unknown status’; 29 was the median age of these victims; and 135 cases (27%) were victims aged 18 and under. The five states with the highest number of cases were New Mexico, Washington, Arizona, Alaska and Montana. The top seven cities were Seattle, Albuquerque, Anchorage, Tucson, Billings, Gallup, and Tacoma.
Native communities have disproportionately high rates of violence, suicide and alcohol abuse in the U.S., according to a Washington Post report. Physical assault of women is 12 times the national average, and rape rates are the highest in the nation, domestic-violence rates are 10 times higher than the national average and, on some reservations, women are murdered at 10 times the national average.
Why was this young girl hitchhiking late at night when anyone could have picked her up? Our young people are suffering across our reservation and in urban areas like Seattle & Tacoma where many of our troubled youth will often escape to. I want to thank this tribal leader who kept this young girl at her home safely through the night.
Those of us who grew up on our reservation understand what it is like to experience drug and alcohol abuse in our families, we know what it is like to go without, to not have the opportunities that non-Indian youth will experience, and we have felt blatant and institutional racism. Worst of all, we were meant to feel that being Native is inferior to non-Native people.
Seeing such a young girl hitchhiking so late should not be socially acceptable. Witnessing our young people partying using drugs and alcohol should not be acceptable. Our tribal youth have the lowest standardized test scores in our state. We need to improve our educational systems. We need to provide opportunities for our youth to experience and learn and to pursue their interests. We need to provide ways for them to learn their language and culture. Most of all they need to feel loved and valued. We need to find ways to reverse these social evils.
I would like to encourage our people to volunteer in our schools to help our children with their math and reading. I would like to encourage our people to create opportunities for their children through attending sports, academic and artistic programs or field trips.
On Friday, May 3rd, I hope to see many of our people come together at our Lucy Covington Government Center to pray for this young lady and to remember our women and girls who are missing or murdered. We also need to look forward to doing something good for our young people. You never know when a few encouraging words can make the difference that someone needs to hear. Millions of dollars have been dedicated to our social and behavioral health programs, but we must start at home. Our young people need a safe, encouraging environment. Now that the Washington State legislature has passed a bill to help investigate crimes of missing and murdered indigenous women, lets view this as a beginning and do what each of us can to reverse this national crisis and strengthen our most valuable resource, our future generations.