ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — Thousands of unsolved cases of missing and murdered Native Americans are getting the attention of the federal government.

A White House proclamation makes Wednesday Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Day.

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Locally, the push to recognize the violence has been ongoing for years. Minnesota’s efforts are now being looked at as a template for how the country can work to help solve the issue and heal.

Each red dress placed on State Capitol grounds represents an Indigenous woman or girl who is missing or has been murdered.

(credit: CBS)

“It’s not just families today but this is generation upon generations of families that have lost their loved ones, don’t know where they are, they’ve gone missing and never found,” state Sen. Mary Kunesh said.

Kunesh, the co-chair of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Task Force, has written legislation to prioritize the safety and well being of Native peoples everywhere.

A commission formed in 2019 to conduct community listening sessions with families that have been impacted by the issues turned up startling numbers.

“We learned that although Native women represent 1% of Minnesota’s population, we represent about 8% of the murdered women in Minnesota,” Nicole Matthews, ex-director of the Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition, said.

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That commission also learned from 27 to 54 Native women and girls in Minnesota were missing in any given month from 2012 to 2020.

“This is something that we started to bring more awareness to within the last four years,” Kunesh said.

The federal government will lean on the work Minnesota has started, using it as a template.

“Our new Secretary of Interior Deb Holland has created a federal level of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous unit. So now if we are able to we will take some of the information that we’ve come across and the network that we have here in Minnesota and then we will be able to coordinate at that national level,” Kunesh said.

Homicide is the third leading cause of death for Native women. That’s 10 times the national average.

Advocates say legislation is the key getting funding and a platform to change that outcome.

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Kunesh has written legislation to create a platform to address the issue of violence towards Indigenous women. The House has pushed the bill and the Senate has yet to move on it.

Reg Chapman