Human Trafficking Crisis In Indian Country ‘Like A Pandemic’

March 30, 2021

In the summer of 2019, Molina Richards got a call that made her stomach sink. One of her best friend’s teenage daughters had gone missing on the Rosebud Reservation.

It took police several days to organize a formal search party because they kept getting tips that she had been seen in various parts of the vast, 1,900-square-mile reservation in one of the most isolated parts of the lower 48 states.

“All the leads, they didn’t find her,” Richards said, choking back tears as she recalled the trauma of that July day.

Richards ended up part of a six-person search team on ATVs. They finally found Waniyetu Rose Loves War whose English name was Autumn. She was dead at 19.

But Richards had already feared the worst.

“It’s always in the back of your mind, growing up here,” she said.

Nobody knows how many indigenous people go missing or are murdered every year. There’s just not a lot of comprehensive data. But on long neglected reservations such as Rosebud, tribal members are convinced the crisis is worsening everyday.

Tribal governments are renewing pressure on federal and state authorities to devote more resources to the crisis, and there are signs that’s starting to happen.

“With Waniyetu’s situation, I promised my friend I would never let anybody forget her name,” Richards said.

“Like a pandemic”

To that end, Richards wrote and recently won a grant from CARES Act funds available to tribes to open a shelter for women and homeless teens on the reservation. The first of its kind safehouse will be staffed around the clock. It will also be a badly needed refuge for people who are otherwise walking out in the cold all night, organizers said, moving from boarded up gang-run houses, to drug parties, their feet swollen, or far worse.

Read or listen to the full story by Kirk Siegler on NPR.

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