Why do missing Native American women go unreported?

A memorial is set up at the Fargo apartment building where Greywind lived.
A small memorial set up at the front door of the Fargo apartment building where 22-year-old Savanna Greywind lived.
Dan Gunderson | MPR News file

The funeral for Savanna Greywind — the Fargo woman brutally murdered just weeks before she was to give birth — is set for Thursday.

Kayakers discovered her body last week in the Red River north of Fargo-Moorhead. She had been missing since Aug 19. The baby did survive.

Although the case is still under investigation, it raises the persistent issue of cases involving missing Native American women going unreported and uninvestigated.

It's rare that a case like this got public attention, said Nicole Matthews, executive director of the Minnesota Indian Women's Sexual Assault Coalition during a talk with MPR host Tom Weber.

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"We're not seen or heard from in the media when we go missing," Matthews said. "I don't think the question is whether or not [Greywind] was murdered because she's a Native woman, I think the question is why is there an invisibility and why are Native women at higher risk for experiencing this type of violence."

If you look at how many women are murdered or go missing across the country and compare Native communities to other populations, you'll see a large disparity, Matthews said.

And those numbers are hard to find.

"You almost have to contact tribe by tribe, family by family to really get an understanding to see the true impact," she said.

This indifference to Native women can be traced back to the practice of separating Native people from their families and stripping them of their way of life that's seen throughout America's history.

"There's been a very deliberate practice of trying to erase us," Matthews said.

The women Matthews works with who are impacted by sex trafficking and sexual violence are at an even higher risk of going missing. These women are often homeless or were taken from their homes and so no longer have a connection to their communities — the people who would notice when they're gone, Matthews said.

For this reason, legislation that addresses poverty and homelessness is a good first step in addressing the issue of missing Native women.

For those just coming to understand what a huge issue this is, Matthews said it's up to individuals to seek out information "because we're already here."

To hear the full discussion use the audio player above.