Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Clear Day 80° Clear
News >  Crime/Public Safety

New study sheds light on disturbing trend of missing and murdered Indigenous people in Idaho

Nov. 10, 2021 Updated Fri., Nov. 12, 2021 at 9:55 p.m.

 (Molly Quinn / The Spokesman-Review)
(Molly Quinn / The Spokesman-Review)

While non-Indigenous men in Idaho go missing far more often than their female counterparts, in Native communities, the number of missing women far outpaces missing men, a recent Boise State University study found along with other new statistics on missing and murdered Indigenous people in the state.

A key potential solution offered in the report is to put as much energy and urgency into looking for missing adults as is put into the search for missing children, and have those efforts be highly collaborative across tribal and nontribal agencies.

In 2020, the Idaho Legislature passed a resolution recognizing the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous persons as a crisis in Idaho and designated May 5 as a day of awareness. The resolution also provided funding to create and conduct the report.

BSU researchers Lane Gillespie and Melanie Fillmore began their research in March 2021.

“This is a difficult issue to talk and do research about, very uncomfortable,” Fillmore said. “There was a recognition for a need of more collaboration by all agencies.”

Other findings from the report:

  • For Native missing persons, adults and juveniles each make up 50% of all cases reported. In non-Native missing person cases, adults make up nearly 62% of the missing persons, while 38% are juveniles.
  • For deaths ruled as homicides, Indigenous persons are disproportionately murdered at three times their proportion of the population.
  • Of Idaho’s non-Indigenous missing persons, only 28% are women, while women make up 75% of the missing persons in the Indigenous communities.

For many in the Indigenous community, the lopsided findings in the report amplify why activists have created organizations to advocate solely for missing and murdered Indigenous women.

In 2020, Duane Garvais-Lawrence founded the MMIW Bike Run, a cross-country journey where supporters traveled on reservations to call for investigations into violence against Native women and legislation to protect them. One of the stops was on the Coeur d’Alene Reservation outside of De Smet. Garvais-Lawrence called the report “commendable,” saying it further supports the MMIW advocacy that has taken place in recent years.

One of the solutions, he said, is to create opportunities for “everyone to come to the table.” He also recognized the hesitancy to collaborate across agencies and tribes due to the history between Indigenous people and law agencies.

Garvais-Lawrence cited the BSU researchers’ decision to include nontribal and tribal voices as “the first step to making change as a human race.”

“You take into consideration that they’re preying on Native women, and that makes communication critical to move forward,” Garvais-Lawrence said. “We need all five tribes with the local sheriff, the tribal council and police chief, (because) there needs to be a communication effort statewide.”

Fillmore conducted Zoom interviews with 14 stakeholders, tribal and non-tribal, who represent community leaders, police and law enforcement, prosecutors and victim services providers. Three of Idaho’s five federally recognize tribes were represented.

While conducting interviews, Fillmore, a graduate student in BSU’s Public Policy and Administration program, cited her identity as a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe to ask questions and understand the tribal identity as “critical to the research.” Gillespie, a white woman, is an associate professor in Boise State’s criminology program.

“Tapping into the connections of our communities that have already been making change and doing the work is just so important,” Fillmore said. “There’s collective, general history of the relationships that each tribe has with state and federal governments. Certainly, there’s a sort of collective recognition of that. But as a researcher, it’s important to tap into the communities’ needs for the research, as well to get what they what they need.”

The stakeholder data covered three topics: definitions, policy and procedures; cross-jurisdictional collaborations and challenges; and needs and recommendations.

Many stakeholders agreed that the process to report juveniles missing, in which immense effort is poured into discovering last locations, casting a wide net and enlisting the public’s help, is a potential model that could be adopted to more efficiently investigate cases involving missing adults.

Reporting discrepancies in steps to report adults missing, the complications of cross-jurisdiction partnerships and recommendations for better communication loops were common among the stakeholder findings .

Tai Simpson, a sociology professor with extensive work in politics and social justice, served as one of the stakeholders. Simpson, a citizen of the Nez Perce tribe, co-authored House Concurrent Resolution 33 to Idaho legislation in 2020, which secured the funding for the Idaho MMIP report.

“The legislation that supported Melanie’s research was really powerful for me,” Simpson said. “It’s this assertion that, in a wildly conservative Idaho, that Indigenous people have been advocating and we need to create awareness, and here’s how we can invest.”

The report suggested that consistent policies and implementing “standard operating procedures” in missing persons cases could alleviate the disproportionate impact in Indigenous communities. It is also recommended that more agencies and organizations engage in research on missing and murdered Indigenous persons to improve policy and response. Simpson encouraged more rapid response protocols, and for nontribal and tribal agencies to form a “woven fabric” of Indigenous community entities to assess cases related to missing persons.

Reporting discrepancies were also highlighted, recognizing that jurisdiction and cross-cultural collaborations can heighten the chance of inaccuracies.

The report collected data from four different data bureaus, three of which are accessible to the public: The Idaho Missing Persons Clearinghouse, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. For example, in a specific time span in 2021, a dozen unique American Indian and Alaska Native missing persons were reported. All appearing in the Clearinghouse database, but only two were found in NCMEC.

“One of the challenges in describing MMIP numerically is that administrative data are often decentralized, inconsistent, and, or challenging to access,” the report states.

Amber D. Dodd's work as the Carl Maxey Racial and Social Inequity reporter for Eastern Washington and North Idaho primarily appears in both The Spokesman-Review and The Black Lens newspapers, and is funded in part by the Michael Conley Charitable Fund, the Smith-Barbieri Progressive Fund, the Innovia Foundation and other local donors from across our community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper's managing editor.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox

Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.