Women on the Yakama Indian Reservation in Washington state didn’t have any particular term for the way the violent deaths and sudden disappearances of their sisters, mothers, friends, and neighbors had become woven into everyday life.
“I didn’t know, like many, that there was a title, that there was a word for it,” said Roxanne White, who is Yakama and Nez Perce and grew up on the reservation. White has become a leader in the movement to address the disproportionate rates of homicide and missing persons cases among American Indian women, but the first time she heard the term “missing and murdered Indigenous women” was less than two years ago, at a Dakota Access pipeline resistance camp at Standing Rock. There, she met women who had traveled from Canada to speak about disappearances in First Nations to the north, where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s administration launched a historic national inquiry into the issue in 2016.
“I knew exactly what they were talking about,” White said. “I had survived all of this and witnessed all of this.” White’s aunt was murdered in 1996, and there were plenty of others in her orbit who had disappeared or died violently.
In the mid-2000s, the FBI re-examined 16 deaths in the vicinity of the Yakama reservation, mostly Native American women whose remains were found between 1980 and 1992 — so many deaths in such quick succession that many were convinced it must have been the work of a serial killer. As the mysterious deaths went unsolved, community members also became convinced of the FBI’s indifference.
In 2009, the agency released its findings; investigators had discovered no serial killer or any one culprit. Ten