It’s been six months since Mika Josephine Westwolf was killed while walking home along a highway on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana (Char-Koosta News). The suspected driver—believed to have affiliations with white nationalists—still has not been arrested, with law enforcement focused on the driver and Mika’s toxicology reports (Daily Mail).
Under Montana law, being an “intoxicated pedestrian” on a roadway is illegal. In response to the “lack of transparency” and “inconsistencies” from law enforcement investigating Mika’s case, her family and community have had to seek justice themselves, including opening a tip line and running a #MikaMatters movement with an awareness walk to keep Mika’s story alive.
Missing or murdered Indigenous women like Mika disappear not only in life but also in data and the media. Their cases are never given the attention and justice they deserve. They are re-victimized by prevailing stereotypes and disinterested law enforcement. And their families and friends are often left without answers. The injustice of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and Two-Spirit people (MMIWG2) is rooted in a history of violence and dehumanization against Indigenous people.
• Support Sovereign Bodies Institute, Medicine Wheel Ride, Data for Indigenous Justice, and Montana Native Women’s Coalition, advocating and raising awareness for missing and murdered Indigenous people.
• Use the MMIW Resource Guide by Lakota People’s Law Project that compiles hotlines, toolkits, and safety plans for Indigenous people experiencing violence or those seeking more information on MMIW.
• Follow local groups like MMIW Texas Rematriate advocating for MMIW and sharing missing people cases.
• Support and share the stories of MMIWG2, like Mika Westwolf, Kaysera Stops Pretty Places, and Pepita Redhair.
The exact number of Native women and girls taken from their communities each year is unknown. No comprehensive government report collects missing and murder incidences of Indigenous people, and reports often group them in “Other” with those who identify with two or more races. Indigenous women and girls are misclassified as another race or ethnicity, and their cases are underreported and impeded by a lack of resources, jurisdictional misclassifications and barriers, and a lack of comprehensive data (Urban Indian Health Institute). 71% of Native and Indigenous people live in urban communities, not remote areas (UIHI). In 2022, there were 5,491 reported missing cases, though the U.S. Department of Justice’s federal missing person database, NamUs, logged less than 300 cases (FBI, NamUs).
While the full scope is unknown, Native and Indigenous women and girls experience high rates of physical and sexual violence and domestic abuse, often by non-Native people. Four in five Native women have experienced some form of violence (e.g., physical, sexual, or psychological violence) in their lifetime (National Institute of Justice). More than half have experienced sexual violence. They are vulnerable to labor and sex trafficking (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). Despite Native and Indigenous people accounting for 2.9% of the U.S. population (Census), Native women’s lifetime victimization rate is 1.2 times as high as White women. When found deceased, they are 135% more likely to be unidentified than women of other racial or ethnic groups in the U.S. (Criminal Justice Policy Review). And most MMIWG2 cases remain unsolved (Sovereign Bodies Institute).
Despite growing awareness of the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls crisis, they continue to fall through the gaps thanks to a legacy of colonial violence still felt today, ensuring that Indigenous communities are neglected, criminalized, and disregarded.
“Indigenous communities have been the target of U.S. government-sanctioned assimilation through boarding schools, diaspora, cultural and ethnic genocide and treaty violations throughout history…
Indigenous women have also been failed by the U.S. due to its settler colonial history that has persistently sexualized and objectified them. As Europeans, especially men, came over to the United States during early settler colonialism, Native women were often stereotyped as being welcoming hosts and sexual entities; this has evolved into pop culture representations today like Disney’s 1995 “Pocahontas” and provocative Halloween costumes” (Marquette Wire).
The intertwining of sexual violence and colonialism, and stereotypes that label Indigenous people as “lazy, drug addicts, and alcoholics who rely on the government to survive” (Native Hope), resulting in them being blamed for their disappearances or murder, but also making them targets for violence and allowing their perpetrators to avoid accountability as urgency and empathy from the media, public, and law enforcement are scarce.
“That kind of narrative about Indigenous people just lends itself to more violence so that when this violence does happen, it’s not a disruption of the social fabric the way it would be when it happens to somebody else,” said Annita Lucchesi, Sovereign Bodies Institute executive director (CNN). “Because we’re already perceived as not part of the social fabric, because we’re either dead and disappeared. We’re less than human. We’re so far away on some remote reservation that we’re not part of the rest of the community.”
Indigenous-led groups like Sovereign Bodies Institute and Data for Indigenous Justice are working to fix the missing and murdered Indigenous people data gap to bring the countless lost back into the forefront. And the creation of the Feather Alert (like the Amber Alert) in California is a small step in addressing systemic inequities behind the problem of missing Indigenous women and girls. It’s important, though, to not only bring justice to the untold number of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and Two-Spirit people but to remember their names and who they were in life.
Kaysera Stops Pretty Places, 18, who was smart and funny, the type of “person you wanted to be around” who wanted to sing, act, and be a pro-MMA wrestler.
And Mika, 22, a Blackfeet tribe member who was also Diné, Cree, and Klamath. She loved the outdoors and writing poetry, and was curious about best understanding our world.
• Mika Josephine Westwolf’s unresolved case underscores the lack of attention and justice given to missing and murdered Indigenous women.
• Indigenous women and girls face high rates of violence, with their cases often underreported and unsolved.
• Efforts by Indigenous-led groups aim to address the systemic inequities and data gaps surrounding missing Indigenous people.
If you or anyone you know is affected by domestic violence, you can call 1-800-799-7233 or text “START” to 88788. You can go to the National Domestic Violence Hotline for additional information. Or the StrongHearts Native Helpline 1-844-762-8483 for anonymous culturally-appropriate domestic and sexual violence helpline for Native Americans.