The University of Wyoming research and analysis center looks at the Indigenous missing persons issue

Published: Oct. 11, 2021 at 6:57 PM CDT
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CHEYENNE, Wyo. (Wyoming News Now) - It’s Columbus Day and Indigenous People’s Day, Monday.

The University of Wyoming is researching missing indigenous people. Dr. Emily Grant, a community psychologist and research scientist for the school, came to the forefront when Gabby Petitio’s missing person case landed in Wyoming. Grant’s research the disparity in missing Indigenous people media coverage when compared to Petitio’s.

The University of Wyoming’s Day of Awareness in 2019 brought together advocates, tribe members, and researchers to address the issue of missing Indigenous People in the state of Wyoming.

Governor Mark Gordon was there as a guest. Following the day’s event, he designated a task force to tackle the problem.

“If all things were equal we’d see if someone makes up 3 percent of the population we’d see 3 percent of the homicides, but 21 percent of the homicides shows they are disproportionately impacted,” said Grant.

Looking through the Indigenous community’s lens helps define the obstacles of this issue, as researchers are finding solutions.

" A big one is raising community awareness. I think that, that has definitely happened at this point. A lot of people in the last month have heard about this issue who have never heard about it before,” said Grant.

Research using Wyoming Vital Statistics Records and the National Crime Information Center data states that 20 percent of Indigenous people were reported missing for more than 30 days. In contrast, only 11 percent of white people were missing for the same time.

Most indigenous victims were young girls from 22 of the 23 counties in the state.

“I know a lot of people have said, ‘How could it possibly be this high? I’ve never heard of this and I live in Wyoming and if it was really this big of a deal I’m sure it would have been all over the news.’ But thats the problem, if we aren’t covering these stories then people are resistant when we show it to them for the first time, " said Grant.

Information relayed between law enforcement, reporting issues, and lack of trust have all been obstacles in helping to find missing indigenous persons.

The task force wants to strengthen victim services, shelters, and advocates, across Wyoming to spread information awareness and resources.

Jurisdictional rules, communication barriers, and reporting issues presented the most significant obstacles to getting Indigenous persons reported.

According to the research sentencing, the procedure of investigation and resources were not equal for this community either.

The task force wants to strengthen victims’ services, shelters, and advocates in all counties and reservations and better parcel out community resources.

“They experience violence at a higher rate than other women in the country. They go missing, have higher homicide rates, sexual violence, stalking, all of these things plague the community,” said Grant.

Now that the research is complete, the next step for the task force is reviewing potential policy changes.

“I think it’s important to say these are people who are all worthy of being found. They have families, loved ones that care for them. They hope that they are returned, so that’s important to say to the media.”

For more information on the research click here, and here.

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