LETHBRIDGE – Over the last three years, University of Lethbridge graduate student Annita Lucchesi has been working tirelessly to create a database of missing and murdered Indigenous women (MMIW) from both Canada and the U.S.
As a U.S citizen studying in Canada and a survivor of domestic and sexual violence, she says it was important for her to try and gather as much information as possible on all of those women.
"I found that there really wasn't any comprehensive information on this issue. And there was no number that we could all agree on. There was no research bringing together both countries or doing a longer historical look. There were lists online and projects that had been put together, but none of them matched."
So, Lucchesi says she felt a responsibility to bring all of those things together and to come up with a more holistic project to not only understand what had happened to the women, but also to convey their stories.
The data base she has created not only includes names and locations of where the women lived, but also includes biographical information as much as possible -including the women's histories, whether they were mothers, if they were in foster care, whether they experienced domestic violence, and if other women in their families went missing as well.
If a perpetrator is named, it also includes the person's race, gender, conviction status and their relationship to the victim.
Lucchesi is also a woman of First Nations descent from the southern Cheyenne tribe, whose territory spans though Colorado, Wyoming and Montana and parts of North and South Dakota and Nebraska. She hopes her work brings communties together, regardless of borders.
"It's something I'm committed to maintaining and continuing to build."
So far, she's amassed nearly 3,000 cases dating from 1900, but figures there are as many as 25,000 others that still need to be documented.
"It's definitely been a journey and a labour of love not just for me, but for all of the community members that have helped to build it as well."
Data is pulled from government data bases, missing persons data bases, law enforcement records, historical archives, news articles, social media, and direct contact with families and communities.
"Really, it's meant to be a resource for all kinds of community and stakeholders," she explains. "So right now, service providers, women's shelters, anti-violence organizations - they access portions of the database quite a bit and use it more in their grassroots community work. Data has also been requested by different State agencies. Sometimes I even have coroners contact me with help identifying a Jane Doe. It's really broad in terms of its uses, and I really hope that continues to expand."
But her efforts haven't been without a lot of detective work and even roadblocks along the way. Specifically, from different police organizations or law enforcement agencies.
"Sometimes it's a matter of not keeping detailed records or being negligent in the records. So, for example, the Seattle Police from the 1960s up through the 80s they were labelling both natives and black victims of crime with just the letter 'N' for their racial designation. So, they aren't able to tell which are which. And that's pretty dehumanizing. That's not only a matter of bad record keeping, that also shows the attitude of the department in terms of how they are working with those communities."
She says other police departments simply refuse to work with her or to provide any records or information and find what she says are all sorts of excuses not to do so.
"And so, those responses are going to be published as well. Because I think the public has a right to see which agencies are doing right by the communities they serve, and which need to be held accountable."
She adds that cooperation levels aren't distinguished by country, but rather, by region.
"In the Pacific Northwest, we found that police department have been - even though their record keeping practices have been abysmal - they've been very upfront about it and very willing to work with us. Whereas in the Plains areas it's been a real struggle."
Lucchesi says a lot of people have asked her when the project will be completed, or when she'll stop gathering information.
"My answer has always been, when native women stop going missing and being murdered at the high rates they experience."
According to statistics on her database, 66 per cent of the women, girls and two-spirit people she has documented are those who have been murdered, with 38 per cent of those murders occurring in the U.S.
Nearly 15 per cent of the missing and murdered women documented on the site are victims of domestic violence, 6 per cent are victims of sexual assault, one-third of the cases involve girls ages 18 and under, there are 37 cases involving police brutality, and 14 of the women in the data base are either trans or two-spirited.
The data is updated at least twice a month.
Anyone wishing to contact Lucchesi to help add to her database can do so at http://www.mmiwdatabase.com
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