U.S. Congresswoman calls MMIW inquiry a ‘significant step’

PM Justin Trudeau discussed the report on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) Monday and said it amounted to "genocide" during the 'Women Deliver 2019' conference.

The final report from the inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada is receiving high profile attention from south of the border.

Rep. Deb Haaland, a Democrat of New Mexico who became one of the first Native American women elected to Congress last November, is calling it a “significant step” to shedding light on the crisis for Indigenous women and girls. It also highlights failures by the government to protect Indigenous peoples, she said.

“Now, we’ll have more momentum to address missing and murdered indigenous women epidemic on a larger scale,” Rep. Haaland told Global News in an email on Tuesday.

READ MORE: Final MMIWG report says all Canadians have role in ending violence

The inquiry’s final report, delivered to the Canadian federal government on Monday, describes the thousands of cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls across the country as a genocide “empowered by colonial structures.” The 1,200-page report makes more than 200 recommendations to multiple levels of government, the police, and the Canadian public.

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Haaland, a member of the Laguna Pueblo, a sovereign nation near Albuquerque that is one of the 573 federally recognized tribes in the U.S, is an advocate on the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. She has supported legislation this year to combat violence against Indigenous peoples and improve coordination between tribal leaders and law enforcement agencies.

“The epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women has been a silent crisis for far too long,” Haaland said. “Now that indigenous communities are finding their voice through advocacy, we’re raising this issue so that our mothers, daughters, and sisters stop disappearing without a trace.”

Neither Canada nor the U.S. maintains databases that track missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. Numbers compiled by advocacy groups and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police peg the number in Canada at 4,000, but the inquiry states that the true number may never be known. Numbers from the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice found that Indigenous women go missing at twice the rate of white Americans, and women living on tribal lands are murdered at rates as high as 10 times the national average.

READ MORE: Key takeaways from the MMIWG inquiry

A 2018 report by the Urban Indian Health Institute found that more than 5,700 cases of MMIWG were reported in the U.S., but only 116 were logged by the DOJ database.

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Mary Kathryn Nagle, legal counsel at the Montana-based National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, told Global News that the issue of MMIWG has been receiving more national attention in the U.S. in recent years, and there are important similarities for Indigenous peoples there and in Canada.

“It’s not a surprise that we have the high rates in both countries. We are all a part of the same Turtle Island,” said Nagle, who is also a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. “That border is not our border. That’s your border. That’s the border of the colonists. And that was created by the same people who used violence against Native women as a tool for colonization.”

“The fact that in both countries, Canada the United States, we still have cultures that accept and allow these crimes to continue without any kind of actual consequence is not an accident.”

WATCH BELOW: Indigenous rights advocate on bias, prejudice, racism not being part of court evidence

‘This is a big step forward’: Indigenous rights advocate on bias, prejudice, racism not being part of court evidence
‘This is a big step forward’: Indigenous rights advocate on bias, prejudice, racism not being part of court evidence

Nagle said that while she sees the inquiry as a positive step, the findings have not been surprising. 

“We’re so excited and glad to see this happening in Canada,” she said. “But it’s what we already knew. It’s what we’ve already been saying.”

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Nagle pointed to a number of legislative efforts that are being pursued to attempt to address the issue. In March, the subcommittee for Indigenous People of the United States held hearings on the issue of MMIWG entitled “Exploring Solutions to End the Cycle of Violence.”

Earlier this year, Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski retabled Savanna’s Act, which would bolster the collection of data and coordination between government agencies and compel the DOJ to create new guidelines on violent crimes against Indigenous women and girls.

“The number one thing that’s going to affect the murder rate (is) to restore the inherent right and sovereignty and jurisdiction of tribal nations to protect their own citizens,” Nagle said.

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