Two Nebraska state senators who have teamed on other Native issues and projects will introduce a bill in January to investigate missing Native women and cases of violence against them.
Sens. Tom Brewer of Gordon and Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln will model the bill after one passed in Washington state this year that directed its state patrol to study how to increase resources toward reporting and identifying missing Native women.
A 2016 National Institute of Justice report found that 80 percent of Native women have experienced violence in their lifetimes.
“There have been numerous reports in Nebraska of Native American women who have gone missing, so we know our state is not immune to this problem,” Brewer said in a news release.
The extent can’t be known until a system of reporting and tracking the cases is developed, he said.
Pansing Brooks said she knows from talking to people affected by alcohol sales in Whiteclay that many Native women are being exploited.
“The confluence of poverty, alcohol and indifference to Native suffering puts these women in extremely vulnerable situations,” Pansing Brooks said. “Many are victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse, while others are forced into sex trafficking.”
Sherry Wounded Foot is one of the cold cases that would be further investigated. Wounded Foot was found beaten and unconscious behind an abandoned building in Whiteclay in August 2016 and died of her injuries 12 days later at a Pine Ridge, South Dakota, hospital. The case is still unsolved.
Homicide is the third-leading cause of death among Native females ages 10 to 24. Native women are 10 times more likely to be murdered than other Americans, according to the Department of Justice.
Judi Gaiashkibos, executive director of the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs, said the state must make every effort to improve reporting and data collection to save lives, offer hope to communities and bring justice to victims and their families.
The bill would direct the patrol to work with the Commission on Indian Affairs to convene meetings with tribal and local law enforcement and tribes and other organizations to find the scope of the problem, identify barriers, find ways to increase reporting and investigate missing Native women.
Nebraska State Patrol spokesman Cody Thomas said the patrol is part of the effort, and has investigated the cases and supplemented investigations led by local agencies. Patrol Superintendent Col. John Bolduc and other commanders have discussed the issue with many stakeholders, he said.
“NSP investigates all reports of violence and will continue to do so,” Thomas said. “NSP is actively engaging about the best way to enhance those efforts.”
Brewer and Pansing Brooks worked together on legislation to create a Whiteclay Public Health Emergency Task Force and efforts to shut down alcohol sales in Whiteclay.
Pansing Brooks also supported the proposal by Brewer and Omaha Sen. Burke Harr to replace statues in the National Statuary Hall with those of Willa Cather and Standing Bear, saying that adding the Ponca chief was an appropriate honor for a civil rights hero akin to Martin Luther King Jr.