She is #NotInvisible

By Julene Allen | 

Ashley Loring, missing since June 5, 2017 from Browning, Montana | Photo via 

September 23rd is Native American Women’s Equal Pay Day. This means it takes almost 10 extra months within the 2019 calendar year for a Native American woman to make what a white male made in 2018 alone. On average, Native American women make just 58 cents to the dollar compared to white men. However, as we get closer to Native American Women’s Equal Pay Day, we can't seem to omit a more sensitive issue plaguing Native communities. At a significant rate, Native women are exposed to violence and reported missing. The hashtag #NotInvisible has been created to shed light on their lack of prominence in social justice and advocacy.

Native American communities suffer from economic development disadvantages due to geographic isolation.[1] Reported by the Navajo Times, “Native people face disproportionate rates of unemployment, of poverty, and a fairly high incidence of domestic violence.” Thus, Native American women are predisposed to low wages and limited protection and security. Compared to other groups of women, Native American women are ranked among the highest groups that are suffering from insufficient pay making them far more susceptible to the ills of discrimination.

In the United States many missing Native American women cases go unreported and others have not been accurately documented due to a  "flawed tribal court structure, little local law enforcement, and a lack of funding,” according to an article in the Independent. Therefore, no one knows the exact number of the missing and murdered Native American women. A doctoral student and indigenous researcher by the name of Annita Lucchesi has taken steps to document 2,501 cases through her research project since the FBI hasn't been tracking the numbers and has only recorded approximately  300 cases between the U.S. and Canada.[2]

The lack of reporting and assistance is partially due to the fact that Indian reservations typically do not fall under the same body of laws as other U.S. territories. Native American women who live on reservations are often subjected to insufficient security, protection, and policy, leaving them vulnerable with limited visibility and a lower priority than any other American demographic. Even when Native women choose to live outside reservations, studies state that they are still plagued by violence and inequality at disproportionate levels due to the stigma tied to their communities. [3]

When Ashley Heavyrunner Loring, a Black Feet resident and a 20-year-old student who went missing a couple years ago, authorities immediately dismissed her as someone who disappeared by her own accord even though it was unlikely that she would abandon her family, friends and educational pursuits. Ashley was completing her studies at Blackfeet Community College and planned to attend the University of Montana post-graduation. She had an interest in environmental science and is described as talented, smart and outgoing. She frequently sent text messages to family and friends throughout the day which is why her silence is unusual. According to Ashley's sister, Kimberly Loring, she and Ashley were making plans to live together. This is why she immediately knew her sister's disappearance was caused by foul play.[4] Logging up to 40 searches to date, Kimberly and her family continue to search the Black Feet Reservation looking for signs and clues of Ashley. The reservation is of one of the largest tribal lands in the country with 1.5 million acres. Even though Ashley disappeared well over two years ago, search parties and vigils for her still have not covered the entire Black Feet territory.

Ashley’s story isn't unique. In Montana, Native American females account for 30 percent of missing cases. Yet, they are only 3.3% of the state’s population. The U.S. Justice Department reports that women on some reservations are murdered at a rate that is more than 10 times the national average. According to the 2016 National Institute of Justice Report, 84% of Native women experience violence in their lifetime. Fifty-six percent have been subjected to sexual violence.[5]

As the restlessness and tension continue to mount for the search for Ashley and other missing women, new efforts are being proposed to increase attempts to save the lives of Native American women. Today, the Federal Bureau of Investigation contains over 600 open Native American women cases that spans over decades.[6] Additionally, between 2005 and 2009, the U.S. Department of Justice failed to prosecute 52% of violent cases that occurred on Indian territory.  

As U.S. agencies remiss to protect the basic human rights of indigenous women, we call attention to the serious nature of violence against women. It’s evident that Native American women are not solely affected by low wages. Their liberty, freedom and protection have been barred and dismantled while their lack of justice go unnoticed.

Updated: 9/22/19


Stronghearts Native Helpline:
National Indigenous Women's Resource Center:

Works Cited:

[1] Sarche, M., & Spicer, P. (2008). Poverty and Health Disparities for American Indian and Alaska Native Children. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1136(1), 126-136. doi:10.1196/annals.1425.017
[2] Hegyi, N. (2018). Doctoral Student Compiles Database Of Indigenous Women Who've Gone Missing. NPR. Retrieved September 25, 2018.
[3] Policy Insights Brief Statistics on Violence Against Native Women. (2013). NCAI Policy Research Center. Retrieved September 25, 2018.
[4] Simon, E. (2017). A family's desperate search for a missing young woman highlights questions about justice on tribal lands. ABC News. Retrieved September 25, 2018.
[5] A. (2018, September 04). Retrieved September 25, 2018, from

[6] Hudetz, M. (2018, September 05). Despite past reforms, Native women face high rates of crime. Retrieved September 25, 2018, from

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