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.