Researchers from the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) are working alongside law enforcement and the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs to bridge gaps in reporting for missing and murdered Native American women and children in Nebraska.
LB 154, a bill introduced by Sens. Tom Brewer and Patty Pansing Brooks and signed by Governor Ricketts in the 2019 legislative session, requires the Nebraska State Patrol to produce a report on the number of missing Native American women and children in Nebraska and identify barriers to reporting. “Our goal is to provide Nebraskans a full understanding of the scope of this issue, as well as to provide viable solutions,” Nebraska State Patrol Captain Matt Sutter said.
The bill requires that a report be submitted by June 1, 2020, yet the bill did not provide for funding or resources to carry out the study. That’s where researchers from UNO have come in.
Tara Richards, Ph.D., assistant professor within UNO’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice and Emily Wright, Ph.D., professor and associate director of the Nebraska Center for Justice Research, applied for and received $170,000 in funding through the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) to carry out this research.
“We need to understand the context of Nebraska’s reported missing persons cases, and to the extent possible, any unreported cases. We also need to systematically examine existing policies and practices related to missing persons cases,” Richards said.
Wright and Richards have collaborated with the Nebraska State Patrol, the Commission on Indian Affairs, and law enforcement agencies at the state, federal, and tribal levels to collect and analyze data. From there, it is up to their partners from the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs and the Nebraska State Patrol to determine how findings should be translated into policy and practice. The Nebraska State Patrol published the report in May 2020. It can be downloaded here.
"I know from my experiences talking to people impacted by the alcohol sales at Whiteclay that many Native American women are being exploited," Senator Patty Pansing Brooks said. “The collaboration between UNO and Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs is a unique opportunity to stand up and show that we will no longer turn a blind eye to this suffering."
“The collaboration between UNO and Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs is a unique opportunity to stand up and show that we will no longer turn a blind eye to this suffering."
- Senator Patty Pansing Brooks
The initial study has three primary goals concerning missing and murdered Native American women and children in Nebraska: Determine how many are missing in the state, identify barriers and promising best practices in reporting them missing or murdered, and provide recommendations for improving justice and support for them.
This study requires initiating dialogues and establishing relationships with tribal councils and law enforcement statewide. Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, researchers spoke with tribal community members whose lives have been directly impacted by a gap in the reporting of missing and murdered Native American women and children. These various perspectives on which reporting practices are working well and which ones could use improvement will inform research and recommendations revealed by the study.
Funding from the NIJ will enable this work to continue past the initial report and even beyond state lines. Researchers hope to use the findings to create a model that can be implemented by Nebraska and other states to close gaps in reporting of missing and murdered Native American women and children.
Senator Pansing Brooks expressed her gratitude to UNO researchers for pursuing this grant and making this important work possible. "I am incredibly grateful to Dr. Tara Richards, Dr. Emily Wright, and Dr. Justin Nix for their work securing this grant,” she said. “I look forward to reviewing the findings of their collaborative research to advance actionable recommendations to improve policies to strengthen public safety for Nebraska's Native women, children, and families."
Additional information can be found on the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice website.
What People are Saying
“The Nebraska State Patrol is proud to partner with the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs and the University of Nebraska at Omaha to conduct the LB 154 study into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in our state. Our goal is to provide Nebraskans a full understanding of the scope of this issue, as well as to provide viable solutions. This effort is tremendously important and this team will work well together to make a difference.”
Cpt. Matt Sutter
Nebraska State Patrol
Division of Professional Standards
“Approval of this grant will examine the scope and context of missing and murdered Native American women and children in Nebraska, identify both challenges and promising practices regarding reporting and investigating missing and murdered Native American women and children in Nebraska, and generate data-driven recommendations for developing and strengthening partnerships to increase opportunities for justice and support for Nebraska’s Native women, children, and families.”
Senator Tom Brewer
Nebraska State Legislature – District 43
“The confluence of poverty, alcohol, and indifference to Native suffering puts these women in extremely vulnerable situations. Many are victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse while others are forced into sex trafficking. The collaboration between UNO and Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs is a unique opportunity to stand up and show that we will no longer turn a blind eye to this suffering.”
Senator Patty Pansing Brooks
Nebraska State Legislature – District 28
About the University of Nebraska at Omaha
Located in one of America’s best cities to live, work and learn, the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) is Nebraska’s premier metropolitan university. With more than 15,000 students enrolled in 200-plus programs of study, UNO is recognized nationally for its online education, graduate education, military friendliness and community engagement efforts. Founded in 1908, UNO has served learners of all backgrounds for more than 100 years and is dedicated to another century of excellence both in the classroom and in the community.