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Advocate calls for inquiry into missing, murdered Native American women

Lisa Brunner, a founding member of the Violence Against Women Task Force for the National Congress of American Indians, gives her keynote speech to the audience for the First Nations Day event at the North Dakota Heritage Center on Friday, Oct. 6, in Bismarck. Mike McCleary / Bismarck Tribune

BISMARCK — An advocate for Native American victims of violence called Friday, Oct. 6, for a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women.

Lisa Brunner, founding member of the Violence Against Women Task Force for the National Congress of American Indians, said listening sessions should be held in Indian Country, urban areas and Alaska Native villages to learn the depth of the issue.

"The epidemic we face is a human rights issue," Brunner, a member of Minnesota's White Earth Ojibwe Nation, said during a Bismarck event in recognition of First Nations Day.

Brunner said information gathered in the listening sessions can shape legislation.

"Once we know what is really happening, then we can create sound, effective legislation," Brunner said. "Otherwise we're wasting taxpayers' time and money, creating things that are just Band-Aids."

As Brunner spoke from the Heritage Center Auditorium, silhouettes representing Native American women who had been murdered from her reservation were on stage and in the audience as silent witnesses.

"They're saying we will not be ignored," she said.

Brunner highlighted statistics that show Native Americans are more likely to be victims of violence, including on some reservations where they are 10 times more likely to be murdered than the national average.

In Bismarck, Native Americans are overrepresented in domestic violence victim statistics, said Police Chief Dan Donlin.

Of the 472 domestic violence arrests in 2016 in Bismarck, 27 percent of the victims were Native Americans, Donlin said. Native Americans represent about 5 percent of the city's population.

"I'd love that number for all races to be zero, but we need that number to come down," Donlin said.

During the event, participants held a moment of silence for the family of Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, a member of the Spirit Lake Tribe who vanished in August in Fargo while eight months pregnant. Her body was found eight days later in the Red River.

North Dakota Indian Affairs Commissioner Scott Davis said her death "sent a big wave across not only our state but across the nation."

Davis encouraged participants at the event to get in touch with political leaders and encourage them to support legislation that aims to bring justice for missing and murdered Native American women.

A panel discussion of victim advocates who work with domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking cases urged attendees to be active bystanders, calling or texting tips to law enforcement if they see something suspicious.

"We are the eyes, we are the ears of our community," Brunner said.

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