On New Year’s Eve night, 2019, sixteen-year-old Selena Shelley Faye Not Afraid attended a party in Billings, Montana, about fifty miles west of her home in Hardin, Montana, near the Crow Reservation. A junior at the local high school, she was active in her community. The party carried over until the next day, and she caught a ride back toward home with friends in a van the following afternoon. When the van stopped at an interstate rest stop, Selena got out but never made it back to the van. The friends reported her missing to the police and indicated they had last seen her “wandering into a field” and that she was intoxicated at the time. Once they heard she was missing, Selena’s family quickly went to the rest stop and began their own search.
Selena and her family had known tragedy. Selena’s twin sister died by suicide when she was just eleven years old; another sister had been struck and killed by a car; and a brother had been shot and killed by police officers in Billings. The law enforcement response to her disappearance was unusually swift, accounted for at least in part by the recent attention to the crisis of missing or murdered indigenous persons across Indian country. Tribal, federal, state, and local law enforcement—along with volunteers—scoured the area for any sign of Selena. Unfortunately, about three weeks after her disappearance, Selena’s body was found about a mile from where she had last been seen; the official cause of death was exposure to extreme natural cold.
In the forthcoming sections, this Article will continue to address the complexities of investigating missing person cases involving American Indians and Alaskan Natives. Section I begins with a discussion of the available data about missing persons and the various legal requirements for submitting that data. Section II outlines what is known about missing AI/AN individuals and the practical challenges to collecting accurate and complete data. Section III discusses legal considerations about missing person investigations involving AI/AN persons and the legal landscape as it affects collection of data about those cases. Finally, Section IV connects the data and legal considerations discussed in Sections I through III with possible public health solutions and other strategies that can reduce the number of missing AI/AN individuals.
Lori McPherson and Sarah Blazucki, “Statistics Are Human Beings with the Tears Wiped Away”: Utilizing Data to Develop Strategies to Reduce the Number of Native Americans Who Go Missing, 47 SEATTLE U. L. REV. 119 (2023).
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