Murder, K. Sarah, Attorney discussed on 1A

KQED Radio
| KQED Radio


I'm Jen white. We're talking about the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women. According to the FBI, nearly 5600 Native American women were reported missing last year. And according to the Urban Indian Health Institute, murder is the third leading cause of death among American indigenous women here to tell us why is Margo Hillman? She's a member of the Spokane tribe, where she formerly served his tribal attorney. She now teaches at Eastern Washington University and directs the school's tribal planning program. Margo. Welcome to one, eh? Yes, Thanks for having me. Also with us from Eureka, California is Anita Lucas. She's the executive director of the Sovereign Bodies Institute, which tracks cases of missing and murdered indigenous women. She's a Cheyenne descended Anita. It's great to have you Thank you for having me. So needed. We just heard about the unsolved murder of K. Sarah stops pretty places. How common are stories like hers? Unfortunately, case Sarah's story is very common. I've been fortunate to get to work with K. Sarah's aunt Grace, who heard from earlier a swell as other members of Sarah's family and other families in the region. It's important to know that Sarah is one of 32 cases of missing and murdered native women and girls in Bighorn County on one of 62 cases in South eastern Montana. So while her story is heartbreaking in so many ways, it's part of a broader landscape of injustice. Not just in Montana we've documented over 4000 cases of missing a murdered native women and girls throughout the U. S and Canada. Over what period of time? Well, we document from 1900 to the present, but over 80% of that data is post 1980. Not necessarily because the violence is increasing. But because the data is so hard to access of the easier are the more president. You get, the easier it is together. Marco, Can you explain how the prosecution of crimes works on tribal land and how that relates to this crisis? Yes, The complicated jurisdiction jurisdictional scheme in Indian country makes it very difficult to protect native women. There are a number of factors that come into play. You know, federal Indian policies like the Allotment Act opened up reservation land, so we had more non Indians settlers coming onto the reservation. We have statutes in the United States Supreme Court cases, but what it comes down to is a number of factors. It depends on the land tenure is the is the property where the act was committed. It matters. Is it trust property owned by tribe or is it feed property on DH? Then it also matters who is the perpetrator? Are they native or not native? This determines who has jurisdiction And then? Lastly, there are statutes like the major crime Major Crime Act. If it's a major crime, like murder, rape, arson, then the feds come in and do the prosecution's so then we're dependent upon federal actors who are responsible to prosecute these crimes. You have FBI agents that come onto the reservation, and you have the U. S attorney's office that prosecute these violent crimes. And Theo US Attorney's office doesn't always prosecute these crimes. I served as the tribes attorney for over 10 years and I can tell you I received letters a declination, where they declined to prosecute very violent crimes on our reservations. When you were spoken tribal attorney Can you give us an example of a of a case you worked on or or you followed so that we have a better idea of how this works in real time when you're trying to solve one of these cases. Okay, so there's a whole range of cases it goes from, you know, molestation of young Indian Children where we worked with Casey Family partners to have forensic interviews. We worked really hard to have good cases for the U. S. Attorneys to prosecute. And they would decline to prosecute. Sometimes they were one more violent acts of sexual assault in sodomy on DH. Those cases weren't prosecuted. I can tell you now the U. S attorney's office is working to prosecute cases, but for many years Indian country was ignored. How much investigation goes into cases like a Sarah's, which is right now it's a it's a mysterious death. It hasn't been called a murder. As I said the autopsy wasn't able Tio Cone into a cause of death, but how much investigation actually goes into these cases? Well, it's difficult to say when whenever there's a domestic violence or a homicide. We have to rely on our are outside partners. Maybe if it's domestic violence, and it's a non native, we do not have criminal jurisdiction over those individuals. There is a United States Supreme Court case, all font. Um, that states tribes have no criminal jurisdiction. So we have to rely on local county sheriff to come on and do investigations or to do wth e. The investigation for a simple DV and again if it's a major crime, we're we are calling FBI agents they can be very, you know hard to solve. Because we can't get anybody to come out to the reservation or as was mentioned by the and it's just not a priority, so just to be clear if An act of violence is committed against it. A woman on tribal land by someone who is not part of the tribe. You're limited in the degree to which you can actually prosecute that person. Except for in specific cases of domestic violence. Is that accurate? So, yes, it's very complicated, not even in acts of all acts of domestic violence. You know, In the past, we had till oa the Travel on Order Code Act that expanded the punitive abilities of tribal courts across the nation. But travel courts are very limited in scope of what they can punish the what they can hand down a CZ faras punitive measures, so we're treated like the impression is Irving that were a lower, less serious court. And that causes a lot of challenges for tribal governments for tribal communities to protect their women and Children. For that matter, there's you know, ah, range of violence against women and Children. Whether you're on the reservation, or you're even in the urban areas, it's difficult. These investigations don't always happen because of the stereotypes there's victim blaming as was mentioned. Oh, she, you know there's allegations of drug use. When main when we seen here in the city of Spokane, that there was somebody that untended Jenise woman that was found in an alleyway in she didn't use drugs at all. On DH. She later died of her assault wounds. A NATO for you. What do you think, are some of the root causes of this crisis of so many indigenous women going missing or being murdered?.

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