Ababiy: The crisis of violence in Native communities

The government is doing nothing to prevent violence against native women.

Jonathan Ababiy

There is a relatively little-known crisis experienced by Minnesota women.

For many years, Native American women across the state and country have faced extreme levels of violence. Many women have disappeared, never to be found again. Others have been dealing with violence since childhood.

One Red Lake Nation woman’s mother mysteriously went missing when she was two years old. Later, the woman was raped when she was 9 years old, assaulted with a knife in middle school and kidnapped at 20 years old. 

Testifying before the Minnesota House of Representatives’ Public Safety and Security Policy and Finance Committee, Mysti Babineau said: “My story is not rare. Many of my sisters and many of my relations go through this … and oftentimes when we do speak up and when we do speak out, we are not heard.”

Her story illustrates the epidemic of violence against Native Americans that has existed since colonization. Examining her testimony, one finds that it is rooted in completely preventable tragedy.

The story she told is not rare. The Indian Law Resource Center reported that more than 80 percent of Native American women have experienced violence and more than 50 percent of native women have been sexually assaulted. The numbers show that there are extreme levels of violence happening to Native American women. The violence is generational. Grandmothers, mothers and daughters have experienced similar violence over generations. This violence has occurred since colonization, when European immigrants used violence to oppress natives.

Things haven’t changed over time because as the testifier said, no one is listening. On tribal land, federal law states that tribal police can only prosecute members of that tribe. Tribal police don’t have the same powers that police in a similar city or county have. Prosecution of non-Native Americans is instead done by state and federal government agencies, which have done a terrible job helping women pursue justice.

This lack of prosecutorial power matters because native women experience startling levels of interracial violence. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 88 percent of violence against Native American women is perpetrated by non-Native Americans. The tribal police are federally prohibited from prosecuting the main group of criminals who hurt Native American women. The federal government doesn’t do a good job prosecuting the cases referred to them, either. A federal report found that 52 percent of all violent criminal matter referred to U.S. Attorneys from Native American counties are not prosecuted. Shockingly, U.S. Attorneys fail to prosecute 67 percent of sexual assault cases, too. There really is no one dedicated to stopping violence against women in Native American communities. The victims are being ignored and not taken seriously. Justice is not happening.

In our society’s broader #MeToo moment, when the injustices committed against women are finally being taken seriously, we need to listen to our Native American women. There is currently a bill in the Public Safety and Security Policy and Finance Committee that would create a task force to examine this epidemic of violence and legal flat-footedness. More people need to be aware of what is happening in American Indian communities. Our society needs to reconsider its current policy in Native American lands to bring American Indian women their deserved justice, preventing further violence — all so there aren’t more stories of trauma like the one belonging to the Red Lake Nation woman.