Missing and murdered indigenous women were on the agenda at the Capitol Wednesday.  Native American and Native Alaskan women and girls are murdered at rates more than 10 times the national average. Representative Beth Myers (D-Bayfield) has co-sponsored a bill to address that with a task force in Wisconsin, which is home to 11 tribes.

“As a state and a country we are failing these women and their families,” Myers told the Assembly Committee on State Affairs.

Families like that of Alysse Arce, a Menominee tribal member whose mother, Rae Elaine Tourtillott, was killed in 1986. “My mom’s disappearance was 33 years ago and I feel some the same issues that negatively impacted her investigation continue to impact investigations today,” Arce said.

Arce’s stepdaughter, Aurora Arce is a student at the University of Wisconsin. “Being an indigenous woman in a city like Madison, and being on the campus, it’s scary to think about being stolen, and think about my case never being solved.”

Lindsey Matthews is a Lac du Flambeau tribal member and student at UW Madison. “So my cousin, she was murdered in the spring of 1990 and there’s still no information out there on that case. The first thing that you see when you enter my reservation is a billboard asking for information.”

The National Crime Information Center reports that, in 2016, there were 5,712 reports of missing American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls, though the US Department of Justice’s federal
missing persons database only logged 116 cases.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that murder is the third-leading cause of death among American Indian and Alaska Native women and that rates of violence on reservations can be up to ten times higher than the national average. However, no research has been done on rates of such violence among American Indian and Alaska Native women living in urban areas despite the fact that approximately 71% of American Indian and Alaska Natives live in urban areas.

IN November of 2019, U.S. Attorney General William Barr announced a national strategy to address missing and murdered Native Americans.

The issues are complex, and advocates say the task force could help sort those out. It would allocate $30,000 for the task force, which would report to the Wisconsin Department of Justice. The bill (AB 548) was introduced in September, 2019 and only now received a public hearing, after the state Assembly has ended its work for the current legislative session.

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