By Michelle Sauve, Senior Project Consultant, Administration for Native Americans
Each of the stories I have heard about trafficking of Indigenous people here in the United States has been heart breaking, horrifying and frustrating. But within those some of those there is also resilience, perseverance and hope for change.
Some that are particularly memorable are the young American Indian girls in Minneapolis, who are approached by pimps and lured into “relationships” with promises of love or a luxury lifestyle, only to be coerced into drug addiction and eventually used for profit in the sex industry. Or drug addicted parents that trade their children for drugs.
The risk factors for trafficking of American Indian, Alaska Native and Pacific Islanders are the same for victims of trafficking in other parts of the world. First and foremost there is poverty, poor education and inequality, and in some case an added risk is the movement from rural to urban environments. Compounding these issues for indigenous communities here in the United States are the over-representation of Native Americans in the foster care system and an increased prevalence of Native women as victims of violent crime such as domestic abuse and rape.
Each of these risks combine with other factors such as lack of a criminal justice infrastructure adequate to the needs of Indian Country and a scarcity of social services for victims that makes addressing this problem especially daunting. How can Tribal governments stretch already thin resources to address these complex factors and how can federal, state and tribal governments make sure that survivors of trafficking have the proper resources to resist re-victimization?
HHS has three primary strategies for addressing human trafficking — Prevention, Awareness and Services for Victims, and the Federal Strategic Action Plan on Services for Victims of Human Trafficking identifies four goals, and ACF will be implementing the activities under each of these goals to improve outcomes for victims.
A briefing on Sex trafficking of American Indian women and children written for the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence suggests, “…tribes and urban Indian service providers should be involved in collaborative planning to better identify and protect Native victims. There must be stronger agreement between federal and state trafficking laws, and equal protection and services for all victims, regardless of age or country of origin. Current research is also extremely limited, and there is a critical need for culturally-responsive, systematic investigations.”
Toward this end, HHS and ACF have been engaged in listening sessions and tribal consultations to learn more about the issue, raise awareness and discuss ways to coordinate and collaborate. These conversations will be ongoing to address the varied and unique circumstances for Native Americans in reservations and urban areas, as we seek ways to partner with Tribes and organizations in implementing the strategic plan. Elevating this issue is the first step to change.
Michelle Sauve, a member of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, works on interagency efforts to improve the lives of Native Americans for the Administration for Native Americans.