Native communities say there's not enough data about how many Native women disappear or are murdered each year. Now a handful of states have assigned task forces to study the problem. Wyoming is the latest and the first in the Mountain West region, although a bill is working its way through Montana legislature that would do the same.
Lynnette Grey Bull is a member of the Northern Arapaho and Standing Rock Lakota tribes and president of the advocacy group Not Our Native Daughters. She said last week, Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon was convinced to take the step while attending a rally on the issue on the University of Wyoming campus. She said he heard numerous personal stories of loss and violence.
"Most families have suffered, one way or the other, including my own family," said Grey Bull. "I have murders [of] my own family members that have never received justice, never received any type of investigation."
She says a task force will help collect better data about the reasons for such high rates of sexual assault in Indian Country. But she says it will need to look deeper too.
“If we talk about why there’s a lack of justice, we have to talk about racism, systemic racism that prohibits some of that from going further as far as investigations, as far as justice,” said Grey Bull.
But those statistics are only guesstimates since very little data has been collected on the problem. Grey Bull said these state task forces can help close that data gap and provide guidance to social service and law enforcement agencies.
The federal government is also considering a bill known as Savannah's Act that would collect such data nationally.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.