Wyoming Joins the Campaign to Fight Violence Against Indigenous Women

Seven states have committed to improving the way they identify and locate Native Americans who have been victims of serious crimes. Last spring, Lynette Grey Bull, the director of Not Our Native Daughters, urged Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon to tackle the issue of violence against Indigenous victims. Grey Bull, a survivor of attempted murder by an intimate partner, raised the issue during a Missing and Murdered Women’s March on the University of Wyoming campus, NPR reported. After speaking to Wyoming state senator and Navajo tribal member Affie Ellis, Gordon acted on the issue and said the state would create a task force to look into the violence against indigenous women. Ellis told NPR that six other states — New Mexico, Montana, Minnesota, Arizona, California, and Nebraska — have adopted similar task forces. “I’m eager for us to tackle this issue, as I believe it is imperative to ensure the public safety of all Wyoming citizens,” Governor Mark Gordon said in a statement. “The Wind River Reservation operates under a separate criminal justice jurisdictional scheme — but Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribal members are also citizens of Wyoming. I am committed to working with our federal and tribal partners to ensure the safety of our Native American communities,” the governor added. Wyoming, like many states around the US, does not report the number of Native Americans who are missing in the state, Gordon noted.

The Wyoming task force aims to analyze the number of missing or murdered indigenous people in the state and then provide recommendations to improve reporting and public safety. The task force will have eight appointed members and four organizational ex-officio members.

Gordon appointed the following people to serve on the task force: Wyoming Attorney General Bridget Hill; Director of the Division of Victim Services Cara Chambers; Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation Director Steve Woodson; Wyoming Highway Patrol Director of the AMBER AlertProgram Kebin Haller; Tribal Liaison for Northern Arapaho Cy Lee; Tribal Liaison for Eastern Shoshone Lee Tendore; Bureau of Indian Affairs Chief of Police Tony Larvie; and Grey Bull.

Ellis said the task force would help Wyoming’s Division of Criminal Investigations gain access to national missing persons data in order to determine who is missing and where. She also said Wyoming could help implement an AMBER alert system on reservations to search for missing Native children, NPR reported. In his statement, Gordon expressed concern that Native children who go missing are not reportedly quickly enough through Wyoming’s AMBER Alert System.

“Several years ago an 11-year-old Navajo girl was abducted and murdered, but because of jurisdictional barriers, an AMBER Alert was not issued until 10 hours after she went missing,” Gordon said. “We must ensure that if any child goes missing — whether on or off the Reservation — our response to finding those children is quick and uniform.” In May, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey created a task force to investigate missing or murdered Native American women. The law established a committee that collects data and information on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

Native American women and men suffer violence at “alarmingly” high rates, according to a 2016 report by the National Institute of Justice. The report found that more than four-in-five American Indian and Alaska Native men and women suffer violence during their lifetimes. More than half of Indigenous women surveyed said they experienced sexual violence (56.1 percent) and physical violence by an intimate partner (55.5 percent).

American Indian and Alaska Native men are also more likely to experience violence during their lifetimes. The report revealed that 27.5 percent of men surveyed experienced sexual violence and 43.2 percent experienced physical violence by an intimate partner. Indigenous men are much more likely than white men — 73 percent compared to 52.7 percent — to experience psychological aggression by an intimate partner. The Department of Justice announced in March that the federal government would grant more than $5.7 million to tribes in Alaska, Washington, California, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and New Mexico to support Indigenous crime victims.

The Wyoming task force is scheduled to meet on August 7 at the Division of Victim Services in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.