Federal, Arizona tribal leaders seek solutions to violence against women

Gov. Stephen Lewis of the Gila River Indian Community says tribal officials are gathering information from law enforcement, hospitals and the tribal court system to better assess indigenous women who are murdered or missing. (Photo by Mariana Dale/KJZZ)

SACATON – More than four in five Native American women will experience violence in their lifetime, according to one federal study.

In another report, Arizona ranked third in missing indigenous women and girls.

Those statistics are part of the reason federal officials met Tuesday with tribal leaders in Sacaton on the Gila River Indian Community.

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The listening session gave local tribal leaders a chance to tell federal officials, including Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Tara Sweeney, what’s happening in their communities.

“What we learned today is there is a need for improved partnership across the federal government and improved partnership with tribal law enforcement, tribal communities and federal agencies,” Sweeney said.

Gila River Gov. Stephen Lewis said that although each of Arizona’s 22 tribes is unique, there are opportunities to work together.

“Common themes emerged … around allowing tribes to determine where resources are needed in their communities and to the need of better sharing of information and data,” Lewis said.

The Gila River tribe is starting to collect its own data from law enforcement, hospitals and its court system.

Arizona will soon convene a task force of tribal leaders, police and victim advocates to study missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.

Existing data does not show the full scope of violence against women in Native American communities.

Annita Lucchesi has documented more than 100 missing or murdered women just from the Navajo Nation, which covers most of northeast Arizona and parts of Utah and New Mexico.

A federal law that funds programs to help communities address domestic violence and sexual assault expired earlier this year.

The Violence Against Women Act re-authorization passed by the House includes some protections for Native American women. Its fate in the Senate isn’t clear.