Local legislators in Wisconsin introduced a bill that would create a statewide intergovernmental task force to address the problem of missing and murdered indigenous women.

Rep. Beth Meyers, D-Bayfield, Rep. Amanda Stuck, D-Appleton, and Sen. Janet Bewley, D-Mason, gathered with advocates on the land of the Lac Du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa to release a bill also co-sponsored by Rep. Jeff Mursau, R-Crivitz.

Indigenous people define the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women as an epidemic level of violence, according to the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault. The organization states that indigenous women are subjected to higher levels of violence, including trafficking, sexual assault, domestic abuse and homicide, than virtually any other group in the United States, and perpetrators of the violence are usually non-native.

“This is an extremely important issue, as murder is the third-leading cause of death for American Indian and Alaskan Native women,” said Pennie Meyers, executive director of the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault. “We fully support increasing the visibility of this devastating epidemic and urge the Legislature to quickly pass this bill.”

The legislation introduced would bring together tribal and state government leaders, survivors, advocates and law enforcement to examine the problem of missing and murdered indigenous women and require that group to submit a report with recommendations to the state legislature and tribal governments.

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“We are grateful to the native advocates and legislators who have brought this bill forward,” said Patti Seger, executive director of End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin. “The violence that native women have been subjected to since colonization is beyond inhumane. It’s high time we recognize it, understand it and end it.”

Tribal women face extraordinarily high rates of violence and abuse, up to 10 times the national average. The National Crime Information Center revealed that in 2016, there were 5,712 reports of missing American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls. However, the U.S. Department of Justice’s federal missing persons database only logged 116 cases during this time.

“We must do a better job of addressing the shocking levels of violence and abuse against tribal women and girls,” Bewley said. “This task force will help identify the causes of this abuse and come up with ways to put an end to it.”

Sen. Janet Bewley
Sen. Janet Bewley

Ending the epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women requires a multi-faceted approach, said Shannon Holsey of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians and president of the Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council.

“This task force would convene the important players within the state of Wisconsin and begin the work to identify the comprehensive actions necessary to provide justice to the missing and murdered and better protect our Native women and girls moving forward,” Holsey said.

“Women and young girls on tribal lands are dying or missing at a far higher rate than anywhere else,” Meyers said. “As a state and a country, we are failing these women. We need to do more to combat this growing crisis.”