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Sisters find purpose in raising awareness about missing and murdered Indigenous women

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Posted at 3:42 PM, Mar 07, 2023

Cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women are increasing.

Shantel Haynes recalls the time she last spoke with her mother, Debra BlackCrow.

"I recall just hearing her voice and her telling me she loves me and that she'll call me later,” said Shantel Haynes.

The next day, BlackCrow, who was pregnant, was found dead. Authorities say BlackCrow's husband, Patrick McNeil, killed his wife.

“You're dealing with domestic violence, but Indigenous women, it's, you know, it's like unnoticed,” BlackCrow's daughter, Deanna, said.

Natalie Weeks, a Native American educator and advocate, says the biggest issue is poor data sharing between tribes and the federal government. But it goes deeper than that. In 2016, the National Crime Information Center reported more than 5,500 cases of missing Indigenous women. The public database of the U.S. Department of Justice only reported 116 cases.

“Native Indigenous peoples, especially women, are murdered at a rate ten times higher nationally than any other racial ethnic group despite being less than 2% of the United States population,” Weeks said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, murder is the third leading cause of death for Indigenous women.

In 2021, the federal government created a Missing and Murdered Unit. It's focused on solving these kinds of cases. But a unit and a database can’t account for history.

“You’re coming from outside into a tribal community, whether it's rural or urban, and there's a lot of mistrust of authority, you know, just because of the historical broken treaties and other things that, you know, happen when you have this vulnerable disenfranchised community,” Weeks said.

In an effort to raise awareness, BlackCrow's daughters continue to speak out. They hold events across Nevada and formed an organization to protect indigenous women against domestic violence. It’s called Her 38 Roses. It's representative of one rose for each year of their mother’s life.

“My mom’s still with me even now. A lot of the reason I do the things that I do is because she’s there,” Deanna said.