Indigenous women led the 2018 Reno Women's March in honor of their missing and murdered sisters - image - Brian Bahouth, Nevada Capital News

RENO – Just before Valentine’s Day, supporters of indigenous women’s rights rallied in Reno to bring attention to the problem of violence against indigenous women and girls.

The statistics for American Indian and Alaska Native women are frightening.

More than half have been sexually assaulted and one-third have experienced rape, according to a report by the National Institute of Justice.

Hear and audio report from Suzanne Potter …


Autumn Harry, a member of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, emceed the Wednesday event. She’s asking law enforcement at all levels to do a better job gathering and disseminating data, in order to get a clearer picture of the scope of the problem.

“There’s not a national database to say how many missing and murdered indigenous women there are, so there’s not even an accurate count,” she points out. “And a lot of cases, they go unsolved.”

A 2018 report by the Urban Indian Health Institute says in 2016, more than 5,700 American Indian or Alaska Native women and girls were reported missing or murdered, but only 116 of those cases were logged into the Justice Department’s missing persons database.

Other federal statistics show murder is the third leading cause of death among those groups of women, and that the rates of violence on many reservations are much higher than the national average.

Harry says she’d like to see more funding for tribal police forces, and increased public awareness of the issue, across the board.

“I think a lot of it has to do with educating men as well, because this is a systemic issue of violence,” she states.

U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada recently re-introduced a bill known as Savanna’s Act, to improve coordination between tribes and national law-enforcement databases and break down jurisdictional barriers that have stymied investigations in the past.