Indigenous women and girls face an epidemic of violence and are far more likely than other groups in Minnesota to be murdered or to go missing, according to new state research.

Along with higher rates of homicide, American Indian women and girls make up about 15% of female missing persons cases every month despite being less than 1% of the state's population.

"For far too long, Native women have been, at best, invisible, and at worst, disposable," Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said in a statement. "As Native women and girls experienced violence, went missing, or were murdered at disproportionate rates, too often, the cases and root causes went unexamined."

High rates of violence against Indigenous women and girls were well known to people within the American Indian community, but not by the general public, in part because the cases were not well documented by the media or acknowledged by public officials until recently, according to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Task Force (MMIW) report released Tuesday.

The report recommends a wide array of steps to address the problem, including passage of the 2020 Violence Against Women Act. It also suggests the state create an MMIW office and expand Minnesota's Safe Habor Law to all trafficking victims, not just those 24 and younger.

Sexual violence against Indigenous women goes back to colonization, the report said, with the view that they are available for men to exploit. Past practices like forcibly separating Indigenous children from their families and prohibiting children from speaking Indigenous languages or practicing their own culture damaged Indigenous families, contributing to the victimization of Indigenous women. Racism also plays a role by limiting the response of law enforcement or the courts in battling the epidemic of violence against Indigenous women, the report said.

Gov. Tim Walz praised the report, and Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington said it would help prevent and solve MMIW injustices. "Not one more woman trafficked; not one more abused," he said.

"Many of us have a story of a relative or loved one who has been missing or murdered," Nicole Matthews, executive director of the Minnesota Indian Women's Sexual Assault Coalition and Task Force Vice Chair, said in a statement. "This report with the included mandates is one more step that we are taking in Minnesota to address this issue and ensure that all our Indigenous relatives are safe."

The 27-member task force created by the Legislature last year included or heard from survivors and families, advocates, law enforcement, public health experts, legal experts, tribal leaders and legislators. It met three times for full-day, in-person meetings before the pandemic hit and then met virtually as research continued.

Matt McKinney • 612-673-7329