The Data Gap and How Non-Governmental Organizations are Filling the Void

Missing data obscures an invisible epidemic

“Data,” in this context, refers to human lives. The lost data facilitated by jurisdictional conflicts and lack of resources for tribal and local law enforcement carries the weight of lost human beings.

What data gap?

In 2016, 5712 cases of missing Native women were reported to the National Crime Information Center. Only 116 of these were recorded in the Department of Justice’s Missing Persons database. A 2018 report from the Urban Indian Health Institute discovered 506 cases and that 330 Native women had gone missing or been murdered since 2010- but 153 of these were absent from police records. 

How does this happen?

Currently, no comprehensive, accessible, cross-jurisdictional database exists in which to record missing Native women. Since tribal, local, state, or federal law enforcement agencies may share jurisdiction, with a lack of collaboration and clarity, cases (women) are lost. Gaps of coverage exist due to databases not having ethnic options for Native women, jurisdictional battles when reservation residents are discovered or reported missing elsewhere, and tribal inability to prosecute violent crimes such as rape.

Is anything being done?

Savanna’s Act (examined further in “The History and Potential of Savanna’s Act” on this website), is federal legislature seeking to develop guidelines in response to cases of missing and murdered Native Americans and increase tribal enrollment for victims in federal databases. Several non-governmental organizations have also launched grassroots efforts to number and collect cases of missing Native women.

The Urban Indian Health Institute (UIHI) is an epidemiology center dedicated to strengthening the health of urban communities nationwide.

Though based in Seattle, Washington, the organization collects and compiles data, issues reports, and leads trainings on issues across the nation such as: HIV/AIDS, cancer, diabetes, and underaged substance use, amongst others. In 2018, the UIHI released a report intended to assess the difficulties of MMIW data collection, how law enforcement agencies track and respond to these cases, and the national narrative of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women movement. Below are three images from the “Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls” report emphasizing the prevalence of this problem, and pervasiveness of the data gap. 

The Urban Indian Health Institute (UIHI) attempted data collection in 71 cities across 29 states.
Cities the UIHI discovered had the highest number of MMIW cases not listed in police records.
Cities the UIHI discovered had the highest number of MMIW cases at large.

The Sovereign Bodies Institute is a non-profit research center dedicated to research of gender and sexual violence against indigenous peoples. 

The Sovereign Bodies Institute (SBI) houses the MMIW database, one of the largest resources of its kind. The Sovereign Bodies Institute partners with tribal nations, scholars, and community organizations to conduct research which provides a deeper understanding of structures of gender and sexual violence against Indigenous people; in 2019 SBI published a deep dive report on MMIWG along the route of the Keystone Pipeline entitled “Zuya Winyan Wicayu’onihan” (Honoring Warrior Women). Below are a few key images from that report.

Here, the SBI demonstrates the enormous burden of disproportionate sexual violence the Northern Plains bears; four states combine to more than 400 cases of missing and murdered indigenous women. Remember! The Urban Indian Health Institute sought cases occurring in urban areas- the SBI had no population parameters (urban/rural/suburban) on their data.
It is important to have images which force us to consider the communities and social structures suffering the losses of these women; data is numerical and digitized, but each case recorded in these grassroots reporting efforts is a human life lost- a sister, friend, daughter, coworker, mother, and more who has been taken from her community.
Below is an episode of the podcast "In the Thick," hosted by Maria Hinojosa and Julio Ricardo Varela, in which Annita Luchessi (founder of SBI) and Jenni Monet (award-winning freelance journalist with citizenship to the Laguna Pueblo tribe) are interviewed on the subject of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.

The Sovereign Bodies Institute partners with indigenous artists to sell work, with all proceeds benefitting the sustained operation of the MMIW database and SBI’s general operations. You may also donate directly to the Sovereign Bodies Institute through this link.

The Urban Indian Health Institute is a division of the Seattle Indian Health Board. Single, monthly, or annual donations to the Seattle Indian Health Board can be made through this page.

Urban Indian Health Institute. (2018). “Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.”

Urban Indian Health Institute. (2018). “Our Bodies, Our Stories: Key Statistics.” 

Sovereign Bodies Institute. (2019) “Zuya Winyan Wicayu’onihan: Honoring Warrior Women”

Hinojosa, Maria and Varela, Julio Ricardo. “The Stolen Sisters.” In The Thick, Futuro Media, 18 Sept.2018.