“It’s been a labour of love” to track and map countless loved ones who have been murdered or gone missing.
Annita Lucchesi, a PhD candidate at the University of Lethbridge, is creating a database of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls of North America, going back to 1900.
“It’s been a labour of love,” Lucchesi told Calgary Today on 770 CHQR, “three years in the making so far, and I don’t have an intention of stopping anytime soon. People have asked me when the project will stop, and my answer has always been, ‘When native women stop going missing and being killed.’”
LISTEN: Annita Lucchesi joins Angela Kokott to discuss her project to independently document missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in North America
Luchessi estimates that, since the beginning of the 20th century, 25,000 Indigenous women and girls have gone missing.
“I think it’s important to go that far back because, even though awareness of this issue has been growing, especially in the last decade or so, this is something that has been affecting Indigenous communities for quite some time. And so collecting more thorough data will show that the number is much higher than anyone realizes or wants to admit.”
Lucchesi, an American who identifies as Southern Cheyenne, says her resulting work as a scholar is being informed by her roles as community researcher and community member.
“My work is on mapping the issue and really bringing the data to Indigenous communities, giving them a chance to work with it, and draft maps to create an atlas telling stories of this violence.”
“Not just the location of where these things happen, but also to tell the story in a way that is meaningful to us as Indigenous people,” Lucchesi told 770 CHQR, citing a map she created of all of the marches in 2018 with protesters carrying signs of names of those missing and murdered. “So that didn’t necessarily have to do with where is this happening, but had to do with where are they being remembered, where are they being honored.”
WATCH: BC man sets out on foot across Canada to honour missing and murdered indigenous women
Compiling the data from multiple sources has been a major hurdle for Lucchesi.
“It comes from all sorts of different kinds of sources. We use news articles, sometimes social media — and not just something somebody posts and doesn’t report to police, but oftentimes media don’t say the woman or girl was native, someone from the community will identify her in that way. So, social media, news, we use police archives and police records, government missing persons databases, and then we also use historical records.”
And Lucchesi has found discrepancies between official records from offices at different levels.
“For example, we just did a comparison between Washington State and what we had in the database, and we found that the state patrol, which is the agency that is responsible for missing persons cases, was missing at least a third of all confirmed cases of missing native women and girls in the state. And those weren’t just things that never got reported.
“They were in the federal missing persons database, so someone had reported them at some point, enough to have a file located there, but for some reason there was an agency disconnect and the officers that were supposed to be responding didn’t even know the case existed.”