Abigail Echo-Hawk, chief research officer at the Seattle Indian Health Board and director of the Urban Indian Health Institute.
Abigail Echo-Hawk, chief research officer at the Seattle Indian Health Board and director of the Urban Indian Health Institute. She authored the study along with Annita Lucchesi (Southern Cheyenne descendant, PhD-c). Courtesy of Urban Indian Health Institute

A new study from the Seattle-based Urban Indian Health Institute identified 506 cases of missing and murdered American Indian women and girls across 71 cities going back to the early 1940s. Forty-five of those cases were located in Seattle (and 25 of them were in Tacoma), making Seattle the city with the highest number of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls included in the study.

After issuing public records requests, scouring media reports and missing persons databases, and interviewing family members of the victims, the researchers—Annita Lucchesi (Southern Cheyenne descendant, PhD-c) and Abigail Echo-Hawk (Pawnee)—also found 11 cases of missing or murdered Native women who were not included in law enforcement records. UIHI stresses that the number of the cases they gathered is likely fewer than the actual number, citing the group's "limited resources" and poor data collection by the cops.

These findings come on the heels of another study released earlier this year by UIHI regarding sexual violence perpetuated against Native women in Seattle. Of the 148 women they interviewed for that report, 139 said they'd been raped at some point in their lives. That's 94 percent of the population.

"We can no longer sweep these statistics under the rug," Sen. Maria Cantwell said in a Tweet Thursday morning." Sen. Patty Murray also weighed in on Twitter, saying, "This is terrifying & unacceptable—and we must address this crisis with the urgency it deserves."

According to The Seattle Times, who first reported on the study, the two Washington Senators were joined by Rep. Derek Kilmer (WA-06) and three other Senators at a press conference with the Seattle Indian Health Board Wednesday morning, where they more or less said the same thing.

In addition to an epidemic of violence against Native women, Echo-Hawk and Lucchesi argue that there's a "nationwide data crisis." They identify a number of problems with data collection that prevented them from obtaining comprehensive results, including "underreporting, poor relationships between law enforcement and American Indian and Alaska Native communities, poor record-keeping protocols, institutional racism in the media, and a lack of substantive relationships between journalists and American Indian and Alaska Native communities." If law enforcement and media do not account for the violence happening in the first place, then we can't figure out why it's happening. If we can't figure out why it's happening, then we can't stop it. And if we can't stop it, then more women will continue to be murdered and go missing.

The researchers conclude their report with a call for more research funding, and for better "enforceable data collection practices for local, state, and federal agencies," including a system that would directly notify tribes when their members are found missing or killed.

A representative from Seattle Police Department didn't respond to my questions about data collection and the 11 cases not included in Seattle's records, but that's probably because he'd already talked to Times about it. Sgt. Sean Whitcomb told the Times that SPD's old system was "a product of its era," but that their new system is "the modern and national standard." But when the Times crosschecked names from UIHI's report with SPD's list, Whitcomb found an old problem with the new system. Read more from the Times.