Gov. Doug Ducey this week signed a bill to commission a task force to study the high rates of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Arizona. The state has the third highest rate in the nation, but the epidemic remains under-researched and the full scope of the problem isn’t clear. Tribal communities have taken matters into their own hands in recent years with aggressive social media campaigns to find missing relatives. KNAU’s Ryan Heinsius spoke with advocate and Navajo Nation Council Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty.
Ryan Heinsius: You’ve been working on the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls for a long time. Tell me about your efforts on the Navajo Nation Council.
Amber Kanazbah Crotty: Our efforts stem from the violent death of Ashlynne Mike in 2016. And what happened was, Ashlynne was abducted and subsequently sexually assaulted, kidnapped and murdered. And with that effort we started having serious conversations on the Navajo Nation on what were happening to our people and the rates of violence that was happening. The legacy of violence in our home communities and amongst Navajo women and children in particular are at astronomical rates. What has failed us is not only the partnerships and the criminal justice system, but now we see their stories are not documented in data. And so their suffering has been a silent epidemic, not only in our communities but across Indian Country in general. And so our efforts are to start telling their stories, and to listen, and to believe and to take action.
RH: Why historically speaking has this been swept under the rug so to speak in US society? And why in 2019 are we just now talking about it on a larger scale?
AKC: We have to recognize that the voice and the people have been invisible in this mainstream conversation. Our stories and our history has been erased and our stories have been not told or respected or valued. And so when there’s a missing Navajo individual it doesn’t get the same kind of sensation or fanfare that we would see with other populations.
RH: What interactions have you had with Indigenous survivors of, say, human trafficking, and what insight has that given you in the broader issue?
AKC: I work very intimately with the families that are missing loved ones—their relatives are missing. So family members who are desperately trying to find their sister, their brother, their mother, their grandmother, and have felt that law enforcement and other officials discounted their story and were very dismissive. And what we’re finding was some of these initial reports were not officially processed, so these relatives who are now missing were not in national databases, they were not on the missing persons website. We have volunteers who are helping family members understand what it takes to find a missing relative, how to use social media, and then they themselves gathering to do these searches. What we’re hoping is that law enforcement sees the need, understands the need and continue to ask for funding in these areas because of the amount of individuals who are missing out there and that we’re still actively trying to look for.
RH: One of the missing pieces to this equation is a comprehensive study, is data. What do you hope a study would tell us and tell officials about this problem?
AKC: I support the study as an initial step but we must move into action. We have families now that are desperately trying to find their relatives, and so we also need, while the study is taking place, is these different agencies to start coordinating and working together, today. And we also need our legislatures at the state and federal level to start allocating funding to address this issue.