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The media has covered the tragic case of Gabby Petito, a young white woman killed while on a road trip with her boyfriend, exhaustively. But in Wyoming, the same state where Petito's remains were recently found, more than 700 Indigenous people, mostly women and girls, were reported missing between 2011 to 2020, according to report published in January by the state’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous People Task Force. About 85% were children and 57% were female.
Cara Chambers, chair of the task force told NPR that only 30% of homicide cases involving indigenous were covered by the media. That’s compared to 51 percent for white victims.
“The themes and media portrayal of homicide victims are that when you had an indigenous victim, the articles were more likely to have negative character framing,” Chambers told the station,” more violent and graphic language, really focusing more on sort of like where homicide occurred versus anything about the victim.”
Chambers said that portrayal is dangerous because it can discourage Indigenous people from reporting crimes.
Activists told CNN that they have turned to social media campaigns, marches and protests to combat the lack of media coverage.
Lynnette Grey Bull, who founded Not Our Native Daughters, blames the lack of coverage on systemic racism. “We’re still fighting for our equal rights, still fighting to be heard,” Bull told Oxygen.com. “The racism here (Wyoming) is alive and prevalent.
Bull was so desperate to bring attention to the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women and children in the state that she challenged Wyoming Representative Lynn Cheney for her seat. She didn’t expect to win, but she wanted to raise awareness and used her campaign to highlight the issue.
Activists point out that they in no way want to minimize the pain and heartache for Petito’s family; they only want more recognition of the heartbreak for the families of Native American people that go missing or are murdered.
“I always tell people, I’m a full blooded Native American woman. I’m the most stalked, the most raped, the murdered, and sexually assaulted, “she told Oxygen.com. “Domestic violence is 50 times higher compared to any other ethnicity in this country, and a lot of people don’t know that.”
The Department of Justice estimates that on some reservations Native American women are murdered at a rate more than ten times the national average.
The numbers of missing and murdered indigenous women is so staggering that in April Interior Secretary Deb Haaland created a unit within the Bureau of Indian Affairs to address the crisis.
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