Data collection is critical in accurate tracking of missing American Indian and Alaska Native individuals.
Published July 20, 2019
SEATTLE — Seattle Indian Health Board and its research division, Urban Indian Health Institute, hosted an event where Seattle’s urban Native community gathered to enter information about missing American Indian and Alaska Native individuals into the Department of Justice’s National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) database.
NamUs is a database that houses missing and unidentified persons cases in an effort to improve access to information and solve cases.
The community group gathered to bring visibility to missing loved ones and further attention to the missing and murdered indigenous women and girls (MMIWG) crisis and to ensure that data regarding missing Native people is more accurate.
“Acquiring more information is the first step in gathering more accurate data for our people,” said Abigail Echo-Hawk, Director of Urban Indian Health Institute and enrolled citizen of the Pawnee Nation. “We know that Native communities have the knowledge to make change happen, so we are taking the first steps in making sure our missing relatives’ names are known.”
Echo-Hawk claims that information about the majority of missing indigenous peoples’ cases is absent from this database for many reasons, including racial misclassification, mistrust with federal databases and law enforcement, capacity issues with law enforcement, and a general lack of knowledge around NamUs and the fact that the public can enter information themselves.
The gathering is one of a number being conducted by Native-led community groups and organizations throughout the country to ensure better data exists around missing Native people in the NamUs database.
The campaign to enter data into NamUs is called Community Days of Action and started with a training with more than 600 people from tribes, Native organizations, and community organizers on how to enter information into the NamUs database. The training was conducted by Urban Indian Health Institute in partnership with NamUs.
The community group gathered to bring visibility to missing loved ones and further attention to the missing and murdered indigenous women and girls (MMIWG) crisis,
“The need for these Community Days of Action comes from the fact that our missing relatives are going unnoticed and need to be known,” said Echo-Hawk. “In Urban Indian Health Institute’s research, we found that there were only 116 cases of missing Native women and girls in NamUs, but that over 5,700 cases had been reported. That’s simply unacceptable and needs to change.”
Urban Indian Health Institute is a division of Seattle Indian Board and a Native nonprofit and Tribal Epidemiology Center located in Seattle, Wash. In November of 2018, Urban Indian Health Institute released a report titled Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls that provided a snapshot of data on the MMIWG crisis in the state of Alaska and in 70 cities across 29 states in the U.S. and highlighted issues around gathering data for MMIWG cases.
“We will continue to look for ways to honor our missing loved ones and bring attention to the issues that have led to the invisibility of Native people across the country,” said Echo-Hawk. “We hope that others will join us.”