The Ties that Bind Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women

artist: Nicholas Galanin

What is it that can bring together a diverse crowd that includes:

  • judges from the Navajo bench and the New Mexico Court of Appeals;
  • state senators from Arizona, Colorado, North Dakota, North Carolina and Ohio
  • provincial representatives in Winnipeg, Toronto, and Vancouver
  • lawyers from West Virginia, Kansas, Wisconsin and South Dakota
  • a Museum of the American Indian Board of Trustees member
  • a nationally recognized Navajo author and educator
  • 37 elected Native American and First Nations officials, including governors and chiefs
  • journalists
  • CEOs & upper management of international oil, entertainment, and manufacturing companies
  • heroin wholesalers
  • an English jeweler
  • a few Ambassadors
  • rock musicians, a boxer and a flautist
  • some nuns
  • some teachers
  • AIM members across the country
  • police sprinkled from small towns like Odessa, TX and big cities across the continent
  • a favorite fashion model of Georgio Armani
  • a custom machining shop in Illinois
  • a sand and gravel company in Montana

What do military bases in the US and mass graves in the US have in common?

What has scared regional chiefs, environmental activists, educators and allies into silence?

What would bring a young car wash attendant from Northern New Mexico and a Proud Christian in Montana together to cause a third woman’s death before she could be tamed and turned out?

What would lead an FBI agent associated with the Southern Arizona Anti-Trafficking Unified Response Network to tell someone in organized crime, “this lady knows too much”?

What inspires people to intentionally breed children to be sold into sexual slavery?

What has brought together Ancestors from over 400 First Nations and 400 Native American tribes–going as far back as those who inspired their creation stories–and one woman?




My secret is safe with your secret….

I’ve shared before the confusion and despair felt when ignored by tribal leadership I’ve reached out to across the continent. Whether the attempted connection is with Osage, Crow, or Anishinaabe (or Blackfoot or Cree or Shoshone or Cheyenne or Pima or….), the silence I’ve been met with has been as deafening and deadening as the ‘keep your mouth shut’ repeatedly heard from the Cree contingent.

I’ve wondered out loud more than once if there is a M. Night Shyamalan-esque agreement within continental indigenous communities in which it’s been decided that a percentage of the population is expendable and sacrificed so that the larger community might be safe; where those sacrificed vanish into ether, with something resembling a tolerable amount of noise, and are never talked about again.

I’m keenly aware of the role that racism plays, the fear a white woman who works with Ancestors and Others inspires, and how spirit coming to life outside of select safe spaces threatens. However, there is something much more deep that I have tried to articulate but haven’t been adequately able to put words to.

This past weekend, though, I read an opinion piece by Garry Wills in the Washington Post about the Catholic Church. In it he expresses so well what I’ve been trying to wind words around:

The trouble with any culture that maintains layer upon layer of deflected inspections is that, when so many people are guarding their own secrets, the deep examination of an institution becomes nearly impossible. The secrecies are too interdependent. Truly opening one realm of secrecy and addressing it may lead to an implosion of the entire system.

His words, especially in the context of institutionalized sexual abuse and the attempts at covering it up, rang true to me.

The effects of colonizers ripping people from their land, the rape of women  also ‘theirs for the taking’, the forced ripping of children from their families into institutions made to ‘kill the Indian, save the man’, combined with the individual experiences of child rape within communities have created this weaving of secrets.

Layer interlaced with layer of secrets and fear; communal and individual, sexual and spiritual (they cannot be separated in the case of the Fuckery any more than they can any religious institution and its abusers), and threaded through entire lineages.

We cannot talk about the disappearances of indigenous children and women without honestly addressing these incredibly painful things. For those  unaware of the legacies wrought by the plundering of the continent’s first peoples, these things may seem like the distant past, far removed from any modern view or experience of the world. They are not. They are right here, right now and must be faced because the intentional disappearing of indigenous women and children are inextricably entwined within these layers.

Corruption on the Southern Border and Missing, Murdered Women and Children

Riding the tail of the El Chapo trial, the New York Times just published a story on the corruption of police along the US southern border linking the now well-known bribery schemes of the Sinaloa cartel leader in Mexico to similar machinations in the US. I was hoping to read more about the connection between bribery schemes and the political theater surrounding the ‘national emergency’ and The Wall. However, the article didn’t go there and I’m only going to touch on it in one sentence. Common sense, data, history and experts have made it clear that a wall isn’t going to stop the flow of migrants, drugs, weapons, cash or sex slaves. And while President Trump has mentioned sex trafficking as a way to engage his audience and paint a picture of horror, he’s missed the mark by a long shot and, beyond mischaracterization, is part of the problem

This movement, across the continent, of children and women who have been or will be sold for commercial sex, doesn’t just involve a few cops along the southern border. And, though it most definitely involves Customs and Border agents who prefer the bribe over the bullet, the wheels of the system are greased at the Northern and Southern borders, at airports, sea ports, and all of places in between the initial place of disappearance and the final resting place.

The mechanics of it all aren’t complex. Built on existing infrastructures of human behavior, trade routes, emerging technologies, and old-fashioned greed, the Fuckery is pretty darn simple.

Nearly every non-profit based in the United States that claims its focus is the direct interdiction of sex trafficking or rescuing of victims actually operates somewhere else on the globe in places like South Asia and Central America. Mission statements and explanations often state that the organization operates outside of the US because law enforcement agencies here have resources those in developing countries don’t, are not subject to the vagaries of despotic or poorly funded governments, including the standard operational normality of criminal collusion.

That is far from the reality. Our nearly nine thousand miles of perimeter and mental disconnect may lend to a false sense of moral superiority however it doesn’t isolate any citizen, officer of the peace or the court, from the human condition.

There is no corner of the globe that doesn’t influence or isn’t influenced by the collusion between law enforcement and sexual slavery of children and women. In the US, there isn’t an aspect of the disappearance of indigenous children and women that isn’t influenced by global economies. While a girl in the heart of Navajo country is being groomed on social media by a ‘friend’ or recruited directly by a boyfriend or teacher, the drugs used to subdue her originated in another part of the world, the broker may be an Apache who came into the business while flying Apaches in Afghanistan, and the ultimate buyer may be someone close to home-grown, but connected to global criminal networks.

The relationships between corrupted law enforcement, non-corrupted law enforcement and the organized crime that bridges the two are symbiotic, cross state and international boundaries. As are those relationships between this organized criminal network and tribal, local, and state politicians and jurists from thirteen Southern and Northern border states, eight border states for which there are no national boundaries, and eleven states in the interior; governors, mayors, chiefs, representatives in state houses, local judges and those on court of appeals benches, councilmen and women all working in partnership to perpetuate sexual slavery and murder of children, young men, and women. Sexual slavery doesn’t offer a way out. Very few get out of the system alive. There are mass graves sprinkled across the country filled with bodies of children and adults who could not be sold, who died of drug overdoses or reactions to drugs they were subdued with, suicide, some literally fucked to death over time, some killed during the act of fucking itself, and some, dumped and buried only after sellable organs have been removed.

There is no wall to stop it, no law to stop it, no border to stop it, no moral boundary that hasn’t been crossed to keep it going and help it prosper.

Think about that for a minute when you read stories about law enforcement and other officials who explain that more data, more awareness, and more timely reporting of disappearances will stop it.







Law enforcement corruption and missing, murdered Indigenous women

This is the second in a multi-part series that will chronicle my journey into the world of sex-trafficking and murder in Indian Country and beyond. The first can be read here. If you’ve already read it, scroll until the font change. 

Headlines, hashtags, and public service announcements don’t provide a way to explore the nuances, relationships and historical responsibilities involved in the discussion and eradication of the trafficking of vulnerable Native American children and women for sexual exploitation. I hope this series does that and more. 

I became consciously involved with the subject in September 2017 when I was called by Ancestors to find a young Navajo woman who had been disappeared from the reservation and was believed by a Navajo cop to be in the Phoenix Metro area. I didn’t know it at the time but finding a body dump on the same reservation in 2014 and my presence at Standing Rock in 2016 laid the groundwork for me to walk into a multinational sex-trafficking operation with connections that span 45 countries. Telling how this story unfolds requires discussion of history and the repercussion arisen out of it, trauma experienced and held by peoples and the natural world, realities of misogyny, sexuality, institutionalized racism, the reemergence of what I call ‘the medicine way’ and where all those things converge in our current era. There will be no naming and shaming here but there will be solutions offered.


So, one cop said to another, “Someone is telling Ingrid too much.”

I was left alive last winter because folks were trying to figure out who was telling me what. How was it that I knew what I knew when I wasn’t supposed to know anything? Two sets of folks, law enforcement and not-law enforcement, who may or may not have known their watching was a mutual effort. The kicker of it all, is that for all the Facebook-cloning, electronic surveillance and geo-locating, physically threatening, and the flying-clone at the bedroom window, it appears that no one has considered that my information comes from exactly the place and in the manner I say it does.

Perhaps, though, two people do. I landed in Phoenix on September 14, 2017. By the morning of September 18, I was at the local FBI office with what I thought was actionable information (and I the time I knew nothing of what I do now). After being interviewed for nearly two hours, I went on my way. My way was south, following the pull of the eagle from two days prior.

On the sixteenth, I drove into a village that visions had been insisting I get to. It’s a relatively small place and I drove each street looking, listening, asking wide open for clarity. Birds had nothing to say. The few cottonwoods were quiet in the light desert breeze and the sand kept it’s secrets so I decided to leave.  Driving back, thinking of lunch, a set of eagle talons grabbed my left arm and pulled back hard. “Come back!!” Unmistakably asking for me to return.

For those few readers who do not understand my relationship with things of the invisible world, I feel the need to clarify that the eagle wasn’t visible. However, it’s identity, strength, power and plea were undeniably solid. If you ever have the opportunity to have a large raptor park itself on your arm, you’ll learn exactly how I knew. When I have confounding experiences with the spirit world in an indigenous context, particularly when specifically localized, it’s a proper and often necessary to elicit the help of a local expert. So I did.

I left the Phoenix-FBI office and went to find a local person of the medicine way. And, everyone I talked to sent me to one man; “he knows everybody”, “you’ll love him”, “he’s been around forever and works with everyone”, “he’s amazing”, “he’s so nice”, “you should hear him tell the Old stories”, “He’ll know exactly who to connect you with. Here’s his number”. So I called.

And with the help of two other Elders, including a lovely woman who said, “This is definitely beyond my level, he’s the one for you to talk to”, I was introduced to the man whose community loves and reveres him. And I told him the story. The whole story…why I was in the desert to begin with and my experience with his community’s Ancestors, their visions directing me to the same, and my experience with the eagle. As I sat across the table from he and his assistant, asking for help connecting me with an appropriate person and an education on local protocol for such things he looked me straight in the face and said, “I don’t know anyone like that.”  I didn’t need his assistant’s head whip to tell him me he lied. I also didn’t need anyone to tell me why he lied or that I’d walked into a perfectly laid set up just as I was supposed to and that what I thought I knew, what I’d reported to the FBI hours earlier, was merely the tip of a desert iceberg.

And I tried to report that. And before I gave up entirely on attempting to report anything, I had a conversation with another FBI agent, three weeks after I’d initiated contact via a non-profit and governmental consortium. After he said, “We won’t do anything without a victim” and I wondered if I might well become one soon just to help the agency out, I sent the obligatory email and forgot about another fucking FBI agent.

I forgot about that FBI agent until I learned I was under electronic surveillance by the FBI and those definitely not the FBI.  It’s an odd experience to be confronted with a) your own ignorance of things that might get you killed, and b) a solid thing, a stalwart symbol of safety and justice in your mind that suddenly isn’t safe or a representative of equitableness at all. It’s even more odd to understand prior neat dividing lines of good guys and bad guys are no longer useful tools.

I’d had hints of things sort of odd with my computer but I chalked it up to it’s age and an unfortunate incident with a car tire a year prior at Standing Rock. I didn’t understand that my computer and phone had been hacked until I was met in the dark by someone making a point that I had been seen and that I ought to be scared, ought to be scared off. The message was hard to miss when an SUV driver turned off his headlights as he approached slowly, then stopped to take flash photographs of me at 11:00 at night. A few minutes before that sphincter-tightening experience, while trying to find my car in a very, very large parking lot, I noticed that my Google maps was showing me forty-five miles away in a place I wasn’t and had not been.  That GPS had either imbibed the drink I was craving or my phone was trying to tell me something. The fat photographer in the Suburban? He told me very clearly what the GPS message was. We’re following you. We’ve been following you. We know exactly where you’ve been, where you are down to the very path you’re walking in the dark. Alone.

I tried to review everywhere I’d stayed, where I’d moved, with whom I spoken, and always came back to September 18, 2017, and the two separate conversations I had–one with the presumed good guys and one with an otherwise-revered not-so-good guy.

Nearly one year later, I was again reminded those who I’d spent years working with, trusting, and loving as brothers and lovers and partners, toe that blue line of ‘protect and serve’ while serving those who commit the most heinous acts upon children and women, all while in uniform. Someone who was responsible for my safety and that of victims chose to make traffickers safe instead.

State troopers, county deputies, tribal police; blue, brown and green uniforms and those with a pantyhose or tie. Safety, security, justice, trust us, my ass.

I’ve watched cops chat it up with pimps, I’ve cut contact with someone I love and respect because I was afraid his tribal colleagues would create a convenient line of duty death, I know an entire department that will need to be taken over by the federal government when it comes out how many officers and command are involved in harboring of hostages, as well as producing and selling child pornography. I’ve been ignored except when I was being surveilled (odd, no?), and the one who facilitated the price on my head? None other than the federal agent to whom I considered sarcastically offering myself as a victim to get someone to listen to me. My thought at the time was maybe the death or disappearance of a middle-aged white woman will inspire someone to care about the death and disappearance of some brown skin girls. Little did I know. 

This winter, I’m alive despite the fact the good guys and not-so-good guys have decided it doesn’t matter how I’m getting my information and someone within one of those blurry-lined camps thinks the reward for my head would make a nice chunk of change. Someone is telling Ingrid too much.

Even now, nearly a year and a half since this unfolding began, it’s not clear who is who, who fits into what camp, and how often they hurriedly blur across the lines. What is clear is that there is enough money moving into the hands of law enforcement officials and respected elders across the country that the trafficking of children and adults will not be enforced away.  


Missing and Murdered Native American women and children

This is the first in a multi-part series that will chronicle my journey into the world of sex-trafficking and murder in Indian Country and beyond.

Headlines, hashtags, and public service announcements don’t provide a way to explore the nuances, relationships and historical responsibilities involved in the discussion and eradication of the trafficking of vulnerable Native American children and women for sexual exploitation. I hope this series does that and more. This first part is something of an overview and will be built upon in following posts. Although my focus is on the disappearance of Indigenous women and children across North America, what I talk about here is nearly a template for the how sex trafficking networks operate around the globe.

I became consciously involved with the subject in September 2017 when I was called by Ancestors to find a young Navajo woman who had been disappeared from the reservation and was believed by a Navajo cop to be in the Phoenix Metro area. I didn’t know it at the time but finding a body dump on the same reservation in 2014 and my presence at Standing Rock in 2016 laid the groundwork for me to walk into a multinational sex-trafficking operation with connections that span 45 countries. Telling how this story unfolds requires discussion of history and the repercussion arisen out of it, trauma experienced and held by peoples and the natural world, realities of misogyny, sexuality, institutionalized racism, the reemergence of what I call ‘the medicine way’ and where all those things converge in our current era. There will be no naming and shaming here but there will be solutions offered.

Recent headlines in a Montana newspaper have read “The Dead Cannot Cry Out for Justice” and “Montana Legislature to take up bills addressing Missing, Murdered Women” as well as others highlighting Montana Senators Daines’ and Tester’s support of the passage of Savannah’s Act, a bill sponsored by Heidi Heitkamp at the National level to address the same.

Within each of the stories is a common lament that governments, tribal and national, don’t have enough money to fuel the data gathering that will show, perhaps, the prevalence of the issue and more beyond the scope of anecdote presumably allowing said governments to ‘do something’ about the problem.

I’ll not dispute that data is important. It is often vitally important. I will dispute that this problem is not going to go away because gavels are pounded and supportive votes counted. Additional layers of bureaucracy like the establishment of a ‘missing persons specialist’ in the case of one Montana suggestion or creation of new technological tools, will do nothing to stem the tide. And, in my opinion, neither will data. In fact, my fear is that if those things come to fruition, past and future victims will be caught in the additional stagnation of, “See! We’re doing something!” when in fact, while ‘things’ are being done, the cause of the issue is not addressed and it continues. 

There are available systems in place currently for local, tribal and national law enforcement use. They are not systemically or regularly used for any number of reasons that have little to do with funding. They have a lot to do with the lack of political will, also for a number of reasons.

One of those, an issue that I will not address in full here is that we, as a general global society, do not like women enough, particularly women of color and poverty, to make them a priority (unless, of course, we want to control their bodily autonomy, clitorises, uteri, religious practices, sexual or general self-expression). In November, the Washington Post shared the 2018 United Nations report on Gender-Related Killing of Women and Girls , adding: “The U.N. report was released to coincide with its International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, a campaign to raise awareness of gender-based violence and its global prevalence.” In the US, it wasn’t until 1994 that the Violence Against Women Act was initially passed and since then violence against women has largely been unaffected. Even the passage of the initial act was stalled because we (via our elected leaders) didn’t want tribal courts to be able to prosecute white men who assaulted, raped or murdered Native American women on reservations. Even now, the arguments made against justice being served in that way continue.

Louise Erdich had this to say about VAWA in 2013:

Tribal courts had such jurisdiction until 1978, when the Supreme Court ruled that they did not have inherent jurisdiction to try non-Indians without specific authorization from Congress. The Senate bill would restore limited jurisdiction over non-Indians suspected of perpetrating sex crimes, but even this unnerves some officials. “You’ve got to have a jury that is a reflection of society as a whole, and on an Indian reservation, it’s going to be made up of Indians, right?” said Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee. “So the non-Indian doesn’t get a fair trial.”…

From Johnathan Capeheart at the Post celebrating VAWA’s re-passage in 2013: “The law that perverted justice in favor of rapists and murderers is now back in balance.” Bless him and his idealism but there is no balance and little justice, especially for Indian Country’s women.

(Of note, the Violence Against Women Act was allowed to expire when the federal government shut down nearly three weeks ago. You can learn more about VAWA here. Note that none of the measures of effectiveness include the lowering of violent acts against women despite the lower rates of overall violent crime.)

While romanticized versions and visions of the Indian maiden tend to be favored by the larger American population, the reality is different. Out of sight and out of mind is how the reservation system was designed and, in many cases, the desire of the colonizing government was that ‘those Indians’ kill each other off or otherwise die. It’s the continued and prevailing attitude in many communities, even those neighboring reservations, where it’s acceptable for high schoolers to openly say in class, “We should have just killed them all off” and for otherwise kind church ladies who shop and worship with brown skinned kin to say, “We don’t have Indians around here”–five miles from the reservation boundary.

One of the more heart-wrenching aspects of the phenomenon of the violence against women in Indian country is that they aren’t valued there either. While the Grandmother is lauded and loved, before (and if) she lives old enough to enjoy her grandchildren, she likely faces the excruciating reality of sexual abuse as a child and as a young woman at a rate of 2.5 times greater than that of any other ethnic group in the US. Even when I view the sexual violence against Native American women in terms of historical trauma and internalized communal oppression, I always come back to the very clear choices made and thought processes followed when a child’s thighs or buttocks are first parted by an adult.  Then done so again and again. The wounds created at the first occurrence and deepened by the following, set the stage for why women in Native communities are repeatedly victimized, seek solace in substance abuse and suicide, and are easily disappeared and die at the hands of family. 

While I’ll not address murder at the hands of domestic partners and family members here, the connections to their disappearances and sexual trafficking of them are parallel and often entwined.

The slave trade was alive and thriving when the Spanish arrived to plunder the North American continent. Tribes stole, traded and sold humans for labor and sex across what is now Canada, the United States and Mexico. Modern roads and mores may have been laid along the ancient trade routes since but the practice continues today. Stealthily, using social media, desperation, hope, and extortion, young people, primarily female, are hunted, baited and trapped across reserves from as far North as Alaska and the Northern Territories, across the urban and desert landscapes of the US, Canada, and Mexico. Targeted by pimps and wholesalers, they are stolen, brokered and locked into an entrenched, dangerous system that isn’t designed to let them out alive. 

This system is profit driven, supported by many and cannot be legislated or enforced away. It is profitable enough that entrepreneurs have decided that working with breeding pairs (yes, humans, not rabbits) will lower their risk of being caught even further. Think of that for a minute: human infants being born into captivity to be used as sexual objects and tools of sexual pleasure for the highest price.

Legislation will not help current or potential future victims become safer, in part, because those creating the laws are active participants in a system that perpetuates it. Respected tribal leadership, from governors and chiefs to those of the medicine way, judges and physicians, teachers and priests, men and women, select, broker, sell and buy from those within an organized crime syndicate to further their own greed. Others are tacitly complicit by remaining silent, accepting monies while not asking where that cash comes from and both groups participate in board meetings and conferences expressing their concern about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, stand in prayer at vigils and make public statements of support for families and the need to ‘do something’. 

Yet more, key Native women in positions of formal and informal power, appear to live in a fear that I cannot adequately honor but when approached with truth and requests for help, they either ignore or, as one of the legislators in Montana did, suggest things like “Just write a novel. Even if you change their names, those people (in leadership) will know you’re talking about them.”  I did not point out the contradiction between that statement and the one she made deriding the historic writings of white colonizers who’d repeatedly distorted the truths of Indian reality, including changing their names.

Across the continent, those in tribal leadership who are involved with the sex trafficking of women and children are joined by others elected to represent constituents in the broader community. In state, provincial and federal houses of government and courthouses across the continent, senators, representatives, jurists and the staff that support those in seats of power not only buy sex from imprisoned Native women, but work in partnership with organized crime to perpetuate the flow of pain and fear.

There are hundreds of laws across the continent that make it illegal to sexually molest children, rape girls and women, or assault them yet it happens to many every day. In addition to laws, norms and mores within communities, make it clear these kinds of behaviors are not acceptable yet those same behaviors continue unabated.  More awareness of the actions and increased consequences has not changed the fact that women and girls are regularly and repeatedly raped and assaulted.  And, according to those who work within Native communities, it has become it’s own norm.  Sexual and other assault of female infants, toddlers, adolescents and women as a normal and expected occurrence.  This fact is a critical piece in the foundation of sex trafficking across Indian Country.

The sexual trafficking of Native women and children cannot be enforced away when BIA officers openly pimp and pay girls on reservations,  tribal police regularly supplement their salaries by the same cartel that Customs and Border Patrol officers hold the border doors open for, local sheriff’s deputies and state patrol officers coordinate transportation and the security of transfer points. These factors combined with the disinterest by federal law enforcement agencies point to the lack of political will, not financial resources. Or, said in a different way, the financial resources that are available–via the criminal networks–create the interest and will to perpetuate the system, not dismantle it.

This is an open secret in many Native communities.  Often the hunters and brokers and pimps are known and operate visibly. They are known to approach people directly and offer to buy their children. There are parents willing to sell their children after being sold themselves a dream for them of a new life of abundance and opportunity, to fuel addictions, or being extorted into the act. And there are lawyers available to facilitate the process ‘legally’.

The above is not to diminish the reality and power of ‘the bribe or bullet’. That is part and parcel of cartel-driven operations. However, there are many, many hands plucking from the proverbial pie and not all of them face death if they choose not to send children and women to be fucked to death. Because that, too, is part and parcel of this system–that’s what it is designed to do, to generate money through each sexual act, live or recorded until the body can perform no more and when it can no longer be used sexually, it’s parts are sold for one last hit of profit. There is no escape. For a few, there may be the capacity to survive and opportunity to rise within the structure in a way that allows freedom to be felt again. But for thousands that has not happened. 

 In next post, I will share more about the glue that binds legislators and law enforcement together–the business end–and the role Standing Rock played in bringing it all together.

The dead do cry out for justice. Those alive pray for release. Their prayers been heard.