A standing-room-only audience of more than 100 people filled the Native American Cultural Center at Northern Arizona University for Dr. Jennifer Denetdale’s presentation on “Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women” on Feb. 5, 2020.
Dr. Denetdale (Diné) is a professor of American Studies at The University of New Mexico, and is a member of the Missing & Murdered Diné Relatives (MMDR) working group, which started in May 2019. She received the UNM Presidential Award of Distinction in 2017.
According to Dr. Denetdale, the “lack of resources to ensure the safety of Navajo women––combined with the socio-economic challenges within the Navajo Nation, gang violence, poverty, and low educational attainment––perpetuate a systemic culture of violence against Navajo families and communities.”
Dr. Denetdale maintains that underpinning the lack of resources and socio-economic challenges experienced by Navajo people, especially women, is the ongoing deployment of settler colonialism and its logic of elimination.
“My job is to illuminate the structures that sustain violence against our people and to disrupt colonial violence,” Dr. Denetdale said.
Dr. Denetdale said that from 1951 to 2019, there were 164 documented missing Navajo persons cases, with 30 % female and 70 % male and an average age of 31. Twenty-two percent of the cases reported involved girls under 18 years old.
Dr. Denetdale said that the MMDR Working Group is creating a Missing Persons Community Toolkit that would include:
- A missing person reporting process
- Steps for gathering information
- Mobilizing a community search
- Working with law enforcement and emergency management
- Self-care attention
- Awareness of MMDR
Also presenting was Jolene Holgate, MMDR coordinator, who said the MMDR Working group is now “coordinating with existing Navajo Nation working groups and available resources to address missing and murdered Navajo people,” and that the Navajo Nation Police Department is creating a Missing Persons Unit and expanding Navajo Nation 911 emergency call services. She said that currently, resources are inadequate. Within the Navajo Nation, there is only one police officer for every 1,000 Navajo citizens compared to the U.S. national rate of 16 to 24 officers for every 1,000 citizens. Navajo Nation is recruiting additional police officers and is seeking additional resources to hire victim advocates.
“Dr. Denetdale’s work and advocacy is pivotal to understanding the determinants of Indigenous health and provides Indigenous public health advocates like me with historical knowledge to create effective and community-informed solutions to stop violence against Native women,” said Carmenlita Chief, a senior program coordinator at the NAU Center for Health Equity Research and contributing MMDR task force member, who attended the event.
The “Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women” event was sponsored by NAU’s Women’s and Gender Studies, Applied Indigenous Studies, Native American Cultural Center, Office of Native American Initiatives, and the Southwest Health Equity Research Collaborative. The event was also partially sponsored by NIH/NIMHD U54MD012388.
For more information on MMDR, visit their Facebook page.