“Yellowstone” star Kevin Costner is speaking out on a subject that the hit Paramount show has touched on in a few episodes. And that is the sky-high murder rate of Native American women.
On Wednesday, Costner posted a call to action on his Instagram account. He also tagged the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center (NIWRC), a Montana-based nonprofit that aims to end violence against Native women and children.
“On some reservations, the murder rate of Indigenous women is 10x the national average,” the Oscar-winning actor and director wrote. “Enough is enough! We are joining @niwrc in honoring & calling for justice for missing & murdered Indigenous women & girls. Follow #MMIWGActionNow! Donate: niwrc.org/donate.”
‘Yellowstone’ Star Spotlights Alarming Problem
More than 4 in 5 American Indian and Alaska Native women have been victims of violence. And more than 1 in 2 have suffered sexual violence, according to the Indian Law Resource Center. Native children have rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder three times higher than the national average. The ILRC describes the current scope of the problem as “unprecedented.”
Non-Indians commit 96% of the sexual violence perpetrated against Indigenous women. But up until recently, American Indian nations had no authority to prosecute non-Indians for crimes committed on reservations.
Indeed, on “Yellowstone,” a young indigenous girl goes missing in one episode only to turn up dead later. But that one fictional case hints at a much bigger problem.
Because the problem spans jurisdictional boundaries between state, federal and tribal authorities, data on the women and girls affected is hard to come by. However, the Sovereign Bodies Institute, a nonprofit community-based research institute, has compiled research on murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls in the U.S. and Canada.
According to its most recent report, from July of last year, there were a total of 4,293 documented cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in the U.S. and Canada that year. Over half of those cases (58%) were homicide cases. Only 13% of the victims were cases of domestic violence.
What’s Being Done to Address the Violence
In Wisconsin, Attorney General Josh Kaul has recognized May 5 as Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Awareness Day. Last July, Kaul launched a task force to address the problem of missing and murdered Indigenous women in the state.
That follows efforts in Arizona, California, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico and Wyoming to set up task forces. The task forces set out to tackle the growing problem of missing and murdered Indigenous women in those states. NPR reports that many cases fall through the cracks of a complicated jurisdictional maze in which the state, the federal government and tribes have different areas of authority.
In 2019, then-President Trump signed an executive order to form a national task force. It was supposed to bolster cooperation among law enforcement agencies and facilitate better data collection. As the New York Times reported, the task force drew some praise but also some criticism for failing to include tribes among its members.
According to the ILRC, a crucial step toward allowing Indian nations to effectively maintain order on their lands is the Violence Against Women Act, which expired in 2018. Its reauthorization has passed the House. However, the bill faces some questions in the Senate.
In the meantime, the Indigenous Women’s Resource Center is working to draw attention to the problem, with help from “Yellowstone” and Costner.