by Peter Mertz
DENVER, the United States, Oct. 29 (Xinhua) -- The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) offered earlier this week a reward of 5,000 U.S. dollars over the disappearance of an old Native American woman who has been missing since June 2021.
Ella Mae Begay, 64, came from the Navajo Nation, the largest land area held by a Native American tribe in the country. According to the FBI, Begay was reported missing after her truck was seen driven away from her home before daybreak.
On the anniversary of Begay's disappearance this summer, her niece, Seraphine Warren, started walking on foot some 3,700 km from the Navajo Nation to Washington D.C. to bring attention to the case, which has turned out to be not at all isolated.
In fact, Begay's disappearance has reflected a broader problem in the United States concerning the country's Indigenous peoples, especially Native American women and girls.
For decades, Native American communities have struggled with high rates of assault, abduction and murder of women. No one knows for sure how many Indigenous women and girls have gone missing in recent years, as there is no reliable single source of such information.
According to the National Crime Information Center, in 2016, there were 5,712 reports of missing American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls. However, the U.S. Department of Justice's federal missing persons database only logged 116.
The matriarchal Navajo Nation, home to around 170,000 tribal members, has seen increasing disappearances and probable abductions, reaching as many as 200 in the past decade, CNN reported recently.
"Every day it just seems like there's somebody missing again, and it's getting frustrating not just only for me now it's a lot of families that have experienced it," Warren told reporters during her walk. "I lost hope many times because of the amount of time a lot of these families are waiting for justice, and missing loved ones."
On hearing the new reward in Begay's case, Democratic Congressman Greg Stanton from Arizona, sent an emailed statement to local TV 12News, urging the federal government to "do more to solve this epidemic," as "the crisis of missing Indigenous women is an enduring tragedy."
Native American women are the most raped, stalked and murdered in the country. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that the murder rate for women living on reservations is 10 times higher than the national average.
Family members, including Warren, whose lives have been torn apart by the abduction, murder, or outright disappearance of loved ones, have grown desperate in their attempts to seek accountability and action. They have pointed the finger of blame at both their tribal police departments and the federal government for failing to act.
"Everything's at a standstill," the Arizona Republic newspaper said last week of "the search for Ella Mae Begay."
Warren's criticism of law enforcement, including local police and the FBI, shed light on her experiences with law enforcement agencies, which seemed to work separately from one another, creating more obstacles when it comes to missing-persons cases.
The crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous people has spurred the U.S. government and other institutions into action by creating databases of missing Native Americans.
However, due to a combination of multiple reasons including inaccurate and incomplete information about the missing people, the lack of awareness and investigation, and the long-time neglect by the government, there is still a long way ahead to solve the problem.
"The crisis is centuries in the making, and it will take a focused effort and time to unravel the many threads that contribute to the alarming rates," said U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. ■