Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women



The United States and Canada are facing a crisis when it comes to the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women (MMIW) and girls. In both countries, Indigenous women are disproportionately affected by all forms of violence and are significantly more likely to be go missing or be murdered than any other race represented in the population. The exact number of Indigenous women and girls who have gone missing or have been murdered in both the United States and Canada since the 1970s is unclear, with estimates in Canada alone ranging from approximately 1,000 to nearly 4,000. The lack of accurate data and appropriate media coverage has played a crucial role in this epidemic.

Indigenous women across North America are being murdered on reservations and nearby towns at significantly higher rates than other women in the mainstream population. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, in some U.S. counties composed primarily of Native American lands, murder rates of Native women are up to ten times higher than the national average for all races. Their assailants are often white and other non-Native men outside the jurisdiction of tribal law enforcement.


The gap of information between the actual instances of missing and murdered Indigenous women and the number of cases that are on record at law enforcement offices, let alone being investigated, is devastatingly extensive. Though many crimes have occurred on tribal land, thousands have occurred off reservation, where local law enforcement are responsible for investigating deaths and disappearances. This is not happening for Native women in far too many cases. Without local, state and federal offices talking to each other and severely flawed record-keeping many of these cases fall through the cracks.

The Urban Indian Health Institute (UIHI) conducted a study on record keeping for missing and murdered Indigenous women in the United States. They requested all case data from 1900 to the present from 71 cities across the country with large urban Native American populations. They received back 506 reports, two-thirds of which are from the last ten years. The Department of Justice’s missing persons database only included 117 of them. According to the National Crime Information Center, in 2017 alone, 5,712 indigenous women were reported as missing or murdered (and 2,758 in the first six months of 2018). A similar study was completed in Canada with comparable reported results.

These studies show that relying solely on law enforcement for an understanding of the scope of the issue would give a deeply inaccurate picture of reality and minimizes the extent of the problem. Without an accurate depiction of the problem by law enforcement, we become limited our ability to address this issue at policy, programing, and advocacy level.


Currently, the federal laws surrounding violent crimes create difficulties in dealing with non-Native perpetrators on reservations. Tribal police serve as law enforcement on Native lands, though the FBI is responsible for investigating serious crimes (not often a clear cut line). If there is ample evidence, the U.S. Department of Justice prosecutes major felonies such as murder, kidnapping and rape if they happen on tribal lands.

If tribal courts wind up with jurisdiction, they do not hold any jurisdictional powers over non-Natives, and therefore cannot prosecute or punish them for their crimes. Additionally, the maximum punishment for any crime is a $5,000 fine and up to one year in prison.

Crimes committed off of reservations are an entirely different story — local law enforcement should be responsible for investigating any deaths or disappearances and in many instances. We need to transform the international conversation about missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls who have been publicly devalued or ignored for far too long.


For far too long, Native American women and girls have been publicly ignored. The Red Road aims to transform the national conversation about missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.