ST. PAUL — Nearly a year and a half since its first meeting, Minnesota's task force on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) presented its a report to state lawmakers on the disproportionate rates of violence perpetrated against Native women and girls in Minnesota.
The report, presented at a Tuesday, Jan. 26 committee hearing, affirmed that the national trend of MMIW plagues Minnesota, too. Minnesota is home to 11 tribal nations, as well as many Native Americans who live outside of reservations. While American Indian women and girls comprise roughly 1% of Minnesota's population, 8% of murdered women and girls in Minnesota between 2010 and 2018 were Native American, the task force found.
The task force also reported at Tuesday's hearing that during any given month between 2012 and 2020, 27 to 54 American Indian women and girls were missing in Minnesota.
State Sen. Mary Kunesh, D-New Brighton, championed the bill (as a state representative at the time) to establish the task force in 2019, with the goal of better understanding the MMIW crisis in Minnesota, and finding ways to address it through further legislation or otherwise.
She said on Tuesday that for many legislators, public testimony on that bill was the first time they heard about "the historic trauma and tragedy that has plagued our Indigenous, our American Indian communities — not just here in Minnesota but across the country and actually across the globe."
Nicole Martin Rogers, a senior research manager Wilder Research and descendent of the White Earth Nation, told lawmakers on Tuesday that there are "layers" to MMIW. The root causes, or "top layer of the onion," are historical trauma, colonization, racism and oversexualization of Native women and girls, she said.
From there, Martin Rogers said there are systemic issues — greater instances of poverty, home instability, domestic violence, sex trafficking and more — that put Native women and girls in more vulnerable situations. She stressed that these systemic issues are not just "bad lifestyle choices," but sprout from the root, historical causes.
According to the task force, 66% of Native women from Minnesota in one survey said they had experienced psychological abuse, and 56% said they experienced physical abuse from an intimate partner. State Rep. Eric Lucero, R-Dayton, marveled at the numbers, and asked why they are so high. Nicole Matthews, the executive director of the Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition, also of the White Earth Nation, responded that it's a "complicated answer," but it goes back to colonization and racism, as well as jurisdictional loopholes that make it difficult to hold non-Native perpetrators accountable.
She said when a Native women or girl does experience violence, they and their families often are not served equal justice, either in the investigative or prosecuting phases.
Among 20 total recommendations to the state, the task force is urging officials to establish an MMIW office to continue work on the issue, produce an annual report and dashboard on MMIW cases, improve data collection and solve jurisdictional issues between local, state, federal and tribal law enforcement. Matthews also stressed the role education has in preventing future violence, and said "we can't only talk to women" about prevention, but boys and men, too.
The task force is set to continue its work through at least June of this year.
Correction: Nicole Martin Rogers is a descendent, not citizen, of the White Earth Nation. Her relationship was wrong in this story. It was corrected at noon Jan. 27, 2021.