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Recognizing missing, murdered indigenous people

2 minute read
A logo with the text "Missing or Murdered Indigenous Persons Awareness Day" with a right handprint in red

For decades, American Indian and Alaska Native communities have struggled with high rates of assault, abduction, and murder—a crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous People (MMIP), nationally recognized each May 5th. Community advocates describe the crisis as a legacy of generations of government policies of forced removal, land seizures and violence inflicted on Native peoples. Data from 2018 (CDC) show that:

  • Homicide was the 3rd leading cause of death among American Indian and Alaska Native males aged 1-44 years.
  • Homicide was the 6th leading cause of death among American Indian and Alaska Native females aged 1–44 years.
  • Additionally, all genders (which also includes LGBTQ, non-binary, and Two Spirit individuals) were significantly more likely to experience sexual violence in their lifetime compared to other groups.

Due to limited resources and poor data collection, these data are likely undercounted and underreported.

As part of the Mass General Brigham Outreach Program with Native American Communities, our system plays a small part in helping to address these issues both locally and across the country. Hanni Stoklosa, MD, MPH, an emergency physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, is an internationally-recognized expert, advocate, researcher, and speaker on human trafficking and trauma informed care who has volunteered her services with the Outreach Program. She has presented educational talks and trainings with numerous healthcare, law enforcement, and advocacy groups across the country working to address the issue of MMIP.

While she is not an expert on indigenous populations specifically, there are many intersections between the trauma informed approaches used to help trafficked individuals that intersect with MMIP.

Dr. Hanni Stoklosa with a group of attendees at an MMIP event.

She says, “I always approach this work with humility—by listening and learning from affected populations. If you’re a care provider, you have to ask yourself ‘how do we, as clinicians, show up in a way that empowers and educates vulnerable people and meets the needs the patient is identifying in that moment?’”

She explains that for patients in violent and vulnerable situations, the emergency department is often a critical point of contact; either because they were found by a family member, were dropped off by their perpetrator, or recovered by law enforcement. Much of her training focuses on how clinicians can be sensitized to the topic in general and be prepared to take action. She often asks: if you were to identify a victim, what would the plan be?

“Having that plan in place is so critical not to miss that moment. It might be the only potential intervention point for that individual,” says Dr. Stoklosa.

If you’re interested in this topic, or would like resources, we recommend:

“These groups are marginalized in so many different ways and it’s really important that those working in healthcare are aware of the issue,” says Dr. Stoklosa. “My work is just one little, small thing that I—a white, female, cisgender physician with power and privilege—can be engaged in. And it feels so meaningful.”