The Bozeman Public Library and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at MSU hosted a Webex forum to discuss “A History and Future of Native Sovereignty: Controversies and Perspectives” on Friday, Feb. 12. This talk was presented by Alex Harmon, an assistant professor of English and American studies in MSU’s College of Letters and Science. 

Harmon delved into Louise Erdich’s 2020 novel, “The Night Watchman,” to open the discussion to the current crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG). This award-winning book is based on the true story of a senator who tried to emancipate Native tribes in the 1950s, and the guard who fought back. Harmon spoke about a report from the Urban Indian Health Institution (UIHI) which explains that the fight for MMIWG has become an increasing concern nationwide. 

According to the report from the UIHI, published in Nov. 2018, murder is the third-highest cause of death for Native women and girls ages 10-24, and these women face 10 times the risk of violence of other ethnicity groups. This is a continuous crisis and, according to data collected in 71 cities across 29 states, only 506 women were identified. Of these 506 women, 25% were missing-person cases, 56% were murder cases and the remaining 19% were “unknown.” As awareness of the MMIWG crisis grows, the data continues to show flaws with a high likelihood of undercounted cases.

The report also shows that Montana has the fifth highest rate of missing and murdered Indigenous women and children with 41 total cases, while New Mexico is the leading state with 78 cases. In both Albuquerque and Billings, the city police departments were unable to provide any information regarding these cases after acknowledging the request by the UIHI. 96 of the 506 identified cases were found to be tied to deeper underlying issues, such as police brutality, sexual assault and domestic violence. 

As Harmon stated in Friday’s forum, “Native women were forced to move to cities without [support systems or an income],” which is supported by UIHI’s report. Forced relocations of Indigenous people were due to federal termination of around 100 tribes, which obligated Native Americans to move toward urban locations outside of reservations. To this day, tribes are continuing to apply to be reinstated for federal programming and services. 

As Harmon reminded the audience, the rising MMIWG crisis demonstrates severe acts of institutional racism, which can be traced back to the first settlers of North America. “There were no such thing as American Indians until there were settlers,” Harmon said.

To help bring awareness to the crisis, UIHI recommends posting to social media using the hashtags #MMIWG, #DecolonizeData, #WeDemandMore and #WeRwatching. For more information, visit https://www.uihi.org/resources/missing-and-murdered-indigenous-women-girls/