Her whole life, her mom used to say that “when an Indian woman goes missing, nothing ever happens." Now, Monique Bourgeau is one of the many women working to raise awareness to the increasing number of missing indigenous women in the United States and Canada.
One of these women, Carolyn DeFord, sees this battle as a personal one as her mom, Leona LeClair Kinsey, has been missing for 18 years.
After doing all she could for a few days to try to find her mom, she went to the police. But they tried to play the incident down, saying that her mom hadn’t really disappeared. After some arguing, she was finally able to make a report.
"My mom fell into all these stereotypes that Native women fall into: addiction, victim of domestic violence, all those things that discredit their search," she explained. "She's a victim, and we victim blame."
Both DeFord and Bourgeau saw an opportunity as the #MeToo and #TimesUp movement started gaining momentum. Now, Along with several others, they started the #MMIW movement to help pass legislation that would address one of the community’s most pressing concerns: Keeping track of missing indigenous women in the state.
Everybody loves a Native protesting for the environment, but nobody gives a sh*t about Natives fighting for equality, justice, or representation in the media. #NativeTwitter #RepresentationMatters #DemandRepresentation #MMIW #NativePayGap #LowestLifeExpectancy— Lucas Brown Eyes (@LucasBrownEyes) February 2, 2018
According to Inlander, with one in every three women claiming to have been raped, American Native women are more than twice as likely to suffer sexual abuse than any other ethnic group. Therefore, the community is particularly vulnerable to being the victims of assault. But both Native women and men are also more likely to suffer physical assault, and those who do become victims are also more likely to go missing or to be murdered.
To help begin the fight to bring an end to this trend, the indigenous community needs to first understand how large the issue is. For that to happen, they must have a record of all people who have gone missing.
Washington State Rep. Gina McCabe, a Republican from Goldendale, listened to the concerns from women from tribes from across the Evergreen State. Then, she put together House Bill 2951, which would require the Washington State Patrol to create a list of missing Native American women by working with the state’s tribal and non-tribal police agencies. If the bill passes, the WSP has until June 2019 to complete the task. Along the way, officials would also be required to help identify barriers to collecting this information and provide recommendations for fixes.
"There seems like there's this disconnect between local police and county police and tribal police and the FBI," McCabe said. "My goal is to get everyone at the table."
After passing through the House Committee on Community Development, Housing and Tribal Affairs on Feb. 1, the bill still has to go through the next committee before the floor for a vote. After that, the bill heads to the Senate.
While this is just one step, it might be a great first step, as the indigenous community struggles to keep track of those who have gone missing. Once law enforcement and officials have a better grasp of the situation, then perhaps, more pressure can be put on them and on the community itself so that everybody is able to work toward a real solution.