On February 12, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution designating a day of awareness for missing and murdered Native women on May 5, the birthday of Hanna Harris, a 21-year-old Northern Cheyenne woman who disappeared in 2013.
Carmen O’Leary, director of the Native Women’s Society of the Great Plains, said the resolution was passed in Harris' name.
“She ended up murdered,” said O’Leary. “She wasn’t found for a few days. In her case, there was justice. There were people that were arrested and convicted. But in many of the situations across the Great Plains for many years, that has not been the experience of other families when they’ve had a daughter or sister go missing.”
O’Leary said it’s unknown how often Native women disappear or are murdered because there’s no data collection system for such cases. But a Department of Justice study estimates that Native women are murdered at ten times the rate of the national average.
O’Leary said one reason there isn’t good data is because many murders aren’t recognized as such.
“Every tribe has these stories where there’s been a body found and it’s put up to natural causes or exposure,” she said. “If you find a young woman hiding and freezing to death under a trailer, that’s not natural. What was she hiding from? How did she end up under that trailer?”
O’Leary says her organization is creating miniature dresses for each victim and circulating the display around the country to promote awareness of how many Native women have disappeared. Numerous marches and a webinar are planned for the awareness day around the country as well.