Our country is belatedly awakening to the need to strengthen protections for Native women and children. Thousands of Indigenous women have gone missing, been slain or died under suspicious circumstances on and off reservations, including here in Nebraska. Authorities say human trafficking is behind the disappearance of many Indigenous women and children.
Among the victims are three Native women found dead last year in reservations in Northeast Nebraska: Ashlea Aldrich, 29; Kozee Decorah, 22; and Lenice Blackbird, 25. Decorah’s fiancé is set to stand trial in U.S. District Court in Omaha in April on second-degree murder charges.
More than 5,700 Indigenous women and girls had been reported missing nationally as of 2016, according to the National Crime Information Center.
Nebraska has taken positive steps to address concerns in recent years. Under legislation from State Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon, the only Native American currently in the Legislature, the State Patrol held a series of listening sessions on tribal concerns and worked with local and federal agencies on recommendations. The sessions identified common factors in tribal missing persons cases, including domestic violence, substance abuse, mental health challenges and poverty.
In response, law enforcement agencies strengthened their data-sharing and coordination on tribal matters. The State Patrol is providing human trafficking training resources to tribal law enforcement, casinos and hotels. Public information efforts help tribal members understand how to report a missing person. The Brewer legislation, now law, directs the state Department of Health and Human Services to increase efforts to address domestic violence, substance abuse and mental health issues.
Nebraska law enforcement agencies and county attorneys have a particular obligation to remedy the lack of trust and confidence that Native peoples have toward them, as identified during the listening sessions. If Nebraska is to make needed progress, authorities must demonstrate that they are awake to Native concerns and are committed to serving all people with the highest dedication and professionalism.