Groups are working to end violence against Indigenous women
Understanding and addressing the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls has been brought to the forefront in the United States, with hundreds of organizations working to prevent and eliminate violence against Native Americans.
There is currently little data to understand how the issue impacts San Juan County, but those impacted by it say the issue is all too familiar.
“My aunt was murdered on the Navajo Nation when she was 19 years old,” Denae Shanidiin shared in a recent public meeting. “I grew up with that story; and I thought that story belonged to my family and maybe wasn’t as widespread; and I realized as I made more connections to this community, this violence affects every single indigenous person. The fact that we’re just now looking at this violence, it’s just too late.”
At another meeting, a woman from the Ute tribe shared fears of being stalked. And in a recent video produced by the Utah Navajo Health System, a woman shared her harrowing story of surviving domestic violence.
While there is little recently collected data on missing and murdered indigenous women specifically in San Juan County, the data currently available is disturbing.
A 2008 National Institute of Justice report used data from 1994 to 1998 to document the homicide rate of Native American women in San Juan County. The rate was 9.67 per 100,000, while the national average at that time was 7.546.
The national homicide rate for white women was 1.72, meaning Native American women in San Juan county were 5.6 times more likely to be victims of homicide than their white counterparts.
There are efforts underway to understand and prevent the issue. One nonprofit group based in Salt Lake County works exclusively to support healing in indigenous communities.
Restoring Ancestral Winds advocates for healthy relationships and educates tribal communities on issues surrounding stalking, domestic violence, sexual, dating, and family violence.
Restoring Ancestral Winds staff and board members are made up of indigenous people who work with community stakeholders.
In a recent presentation to the San Juan County Commission, the staff of Restoring Ancestral Winds shared their work and asked for support to reopen the domestic violence shelter in San Juan County.
The Gentle IronHawk Shelter in Blanding started as a nonprofit and served victims of domestic violence in the area for more than a decade.
The physical shelter was purchased by the Navajo Nation in 2016 and the shelter has since closed, in large part due to lack of funding. As a result, the nearest domestic violence shelter is located in Moab and is often full.
Recently grant funding has become available and there are plans to reopen the shelter early in 2021. The facility can house up to 30 women and children.
The San Juan County Commission directed the nonprofit to continue communication through the county administrative offices. Commissioner Kenneth Maryboy shared his appreciation of Restoring Ancestral Winds working to bring the shelter back to Blanding.
“There is a need for [this] in San Juan County on the reservation side,” said Maryboy. “So we appreciate that.”
While re-opening the Gentle IronHawk Shelter is one way to combat the epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, another key factor is gathering statistics and creating resources.
In the 2020 Utah State Legislative session, Representative Angela Romero (D) of Salt Lake City and Senator David Hinkins (R) of Orangeville sponsored a bill to establish a taskforce to study the epidemic in Utah.
Representative Phil Lyman (R) was also among the 18 representatives from both parties who co-sponsored the bill.
The legislative taskforce is made up of Romero and Hinkins, as well as representatives from Restoring Ancestral Winds, Utah Division of Indian Affairs, Utah Attorney General, and others.
Unfortunately, the Utah Legislative task force has not escaped the impact of COVID-19. The group has been able to meet just twice, and a listening session intended to hear from Native Americans in Utah who are impacted by the epidemic was poorly attended.
However, the task force is working to expand their work for an additional three years during the 2021 session of the state legislature.
The task force seeks public input from those who are impacted by the missing and murdered indigenous women and girls crisis. Call Restoring Ancestral Winds at 801-561-7374 for more information.
If you or someone you know is a victim of violence, there are resources available:
Moab-based SeekHaven serves victims of domestic violence in Grand and San Juan counties. They are located at 81 North 300 East in Moab and the phone number is 435-259-2229.
The Strong Hearts Native Helpline, at 1-844-7NATIVE (762-8483), is a safe domestic, dating, and sexual violence helpline for American Indians and Alaska Natives
Call the San Juan County Sheriff’s office at 435-587-2237, the Navajo Police Department Kayenta District at 928-697-5600, or the Navajo Police Department Shiprock District at 505-368-1350.