Idaho lawmakers are considering steps to address homicide on tribal reservations in the state.
State legislators and Gov. Brad Little are looking into the murder rates for native women in the state, according to an article by the Idaho Statesman. The decision came after statistics emerged on a shockingly high murder rate among Native American women in the United States – coupled with a relative lack of data within Idaho.
“I am fearful for the youth on our reservation,” Shoshone-Bannock Tribal Chairman Ladd Edmo told the Idaho Legislature Council of Indian Affairs Committee at an Oct. 3 meeting “I have a 17-year-old daughter. I am strongly afraid that she could be a victim just because she is out in life enjoying her time.”
Following the meeting, the committee unanimously agreed to recommend a task force to study the rates of missing or murdered indigenous women in Idaho. Gov. Brad Little agreed to the proposal, and state agencies and ISP officials have said they are beginning work on the project.
Nationwide, murder or other homicide is the third highest cause of death among Native American women younger than 20 years. For women older than 20, it is the sixth leading cause of death. Furthermore, according to a 2016 Department of Justice report, more than eighty percent of all native women reported experiencing violence firsthand in their lifetime.
Benewah County is no stranger to such disappearances. Area resident and Coeur d’Alene Tribe member Tina Finley disappeared under mysterious circumstances March 8, 1988, prompting a 31-year search for any sign of her fate. Despite the search, and a $10,000 reward for any information leading to her location, her case remains unsolved with no active leads.
While these figures are disturbing in themselves, accurate records on the exact number of missing and murdered indigenous women are scarce. At the same time, the existing records are believed to be underreported to authorities, suggesting the actual rate of homicide among native women may be higher.
Five tribes, including the Coeur d’Alene, Kootenai, Nez Perce, Shoshone-Bannock and Shoshone-Paiute Tribes, reside in Idaho, and Native Americans account for about 2 percent of the state’s population. However, according to the Statesman’s report, there are few accurate records for the exact murder rates in these populations.
When the Idaho Statesman asked the tribes themselves for data on missing or murdered indigenous women, only the Coeur d’Alene Tribe responded – only to say that they did not have any data to give, as none had been collected.
Reports on high homicide fatalities and missing persons reports among native tribes has prompted state and federal agencies across the country to respond. The Department of Justice announced a new protocol for tracking and investigating such cases alongside state law enforcement.
In addition, all four of Idaho’s Senators and Representatives in Washington, D.C. have co-sponsored Savanna’s Act, a bill meant to improve coordination between tribal and federal law enforcement nationwide on such cases.
“The lack of data regarding missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls is beyond alarming,” Idaho U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo said in a statement to the Idaho Statesman. “More must be done to deal with domestic violence against Native Americans. I am a co-sponsor of Savanna’s Act, which attempts to combat this MMIW epidemic and directs the Department of Justice to formulate new guidelines for the reporting of violent crimes against indigenous people.”