Commentary, News

Journalists, advocates, Gov. Cooper highlight crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women

It’s long overdue and one wonders whether it can be sustained in the current environment, but the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women has been receiving some new and deserved attention in recent weeks.

In late April, advocates from an array of organizations held an online rally (click here to view the recording) to call attention to the crisis which has claimed multiple lives around the country, including in North Carolina’s Robeson County.

Now, the journalist Antoinette Kerr has authored a powerful new story on the topic for the southern journalism outlet Scalawag entitled “North Carolina officials are ignoring a crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women.” As she reports:

In the U.S., and internationally, there is an epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW). More than four in five American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced violence, and more than half have experienced sexual violence.

But this crisis is not limited to the western states, where Native populations are largest. It’s also plaguing the Lumbee Nation, a state-recognized tribe in North Carolina with more than 55,000 members, the largest Native population east of the Mississippi River.

Despite their numbers, Lumbee tribe members say they feel invisible, as law enforcement and legislators have turned a blind eye to the MMIW crisis in their backyard.

Kerr reports that the mother of one of the murdered women, Rhonda Jones, has formed an organization to draw attention to the issue:

“‘These murders would be solved if they had been rich and white,’ insists Rhonda Jones’ mother, Sheila Price.

Price founded an advocacy group, Shatter the Silence, which has a Facebook group of more than 4,000 members seeking answers. Shatter the Silence members have confirmed at least 31 Native women have gone missing or been murdered in eastern North Carolina since 1998, and they’re still investigating more than 200 cases that stretch back to the 1970s.”

The story goes on to document the hugely troubled and inadequate responses of law enforcement officials at numerous levels to the murders of Jones and other Native American women in and around southeastern North Carolina. In particular, it highlights the longstanding problem of “corruption and fatigue” that has plagued the Robeson County Sheriff’s Department.

This is not the first time this issue has received attention in North Carolina. Indeed, as he has in past years, Gov. Cooper declared yesterday (May 5, 2020) as “a Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.” Let’s hope all of these recent actions help bring the issue (and the demands of advocates for the creation of a statewide task force, database, and law enforcement training) the attention they deserve from law enforcement officials, lawmakers and the general public.

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