CRIME, POLICE + COURTS

Race should not matter in search for missing women, advocate says

Sep 21, 2021, 4:18 PM | Updated: 4:18 pm
jingle dress project missing indigenous women...
Jingle Dress dancers Erin Tapahe, Joanni Begay, Sunni Bebay and Dion Tapahe stand in front of the Grand Teton wearing red masks as part of the #WhyWeWearRed campaign to draw attention to violence against Indigenous women. Photo: Eugene Tapahe -- Art Heals: The Jingle Dress Project @thejingledressproject / Instagram

SALT LAKE CITY — Indigenous people have a difficult time receiving news media attention when Native people, especially women, are reported missing. And an advocate said a person’s race should not matter when drawing that attention to the case of any missing and endangered person. 

Gabby Petito case shines light on missing women

The FBI executed a search warrant Monday morning on the North Port, Fla., home of  Brian Laundrie, who is the fiancé of Gabby Petito whose remains were likely found Sunday on the eastern edge of Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.

Investigators continue to search for Laundrie, who returned home Sept. 1 to Florida without Petito, 10 days before she was reported missing according to police. 

Related:

Leading up the discovery of her remains, everyone in the country, it seemed, wanted to know where Gabby had gone.

Missing and murdered Indigenous women fare worse in Utah

But what about the missing and murdered Indigenous women in the United States? Where are they, and where are their killers?

Utah ranks eighth in the US for the number of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW). Salt Lake City ranked ninth on the list of cities with the highest number of cases of MMIW, according to Urban Indian Health Institute.  But the Salt Lake City Police Department in 2018 disputed the report and called the data “highly erroneous.”

The UIHI study listed 22 indigenous homicide victims in Salt Lake City; however, SLCPD Detective Greg Wilking said there were only two. Wilking partly blamed his department for the miscommunication.

“We’ll be the first to admit our data wasn’t great,” he said, as reported by KUER in 2018.

At least 25 missing Indigenous women in Utah

The FBI reports 565 actively missing indigenous women nationwide. According to Utah Department of Public Safety, there are 25 missing Indigenous women in Utah, as reported by KUTV in February.

Native Americans are often mislabeled in race-specific statistics in censuses, surveys and other types of data collection, according to Taylor & Francis Online. This creates a vast margin of error for research published on this issue, as Indigenous people are sometimes mislabeled as white, Latinx or “other,” says the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration.

On some reservations, Native American women are murdered at a rate more than 10 times the national average, says the US Department of Justice.

Missing almost one year 

Where is Kayla Blackbird?

 

She was last seen on Sept. 26, 2020, leaving her family’s residence in Aneth, Utah. Blackbird is 29 years old, 5-foot-2 and weighs 100 pounds. The San Juan County Sheriff’s Office is offering a $200 reward for help in locating Blackbird. If you have any information, please contact the Sheriff’s Office at 435-587-2237 or the Shiprock Police Department at 505-368-1350.

Tribal police and investigators from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) serve as law enforcement on Native American reservations, which are sovereign nations.

Navajo advocate laments inattention from news media

Eugene Tapahe, a Navajo and managing partner and creative director at Tapahe Inventive Design & Tapahe Photography, joined KSL NewsRadio’s Dave and Dujanovic to talk about the media attention — or the lack thereof — to the plight of missing Indigenous people, especially women.

“It’s difficult for Native people to sit back and see how much publicity a non-Native girl gets when she’s missing, even if it’s less than 24 hours. . . . When there’s a native girl missing, we have to wait 24 hours. We have to wait 48 hours. We have to wait until the police say it’s OK for us to do a missing-persons report,” Tapahe said.

He hopes his Jingle Dress Project, which KSL featured in its Heart of Utah series, will lead to more awareness about missing Indigenous women. 

Asked what the media can do to improve coverage and draw the public’s attention to these stories, Tapahe said race should never matter when it comes to missing women. 

“There’s only one solution . . . that all women and girls are all treated equally in the sense that they are all, you know, precious and life-givers and sacred; they all should be treated that way,” Tapahe said. “It doesn’t matter if they’re Native or non-Native.”

You can hear the full conversation Dave and Debbie had with Eugene Tapahe below: 

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app, a.s well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play.

We want to hear from you.

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Race should not matter in search for missing women, advocate says