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Wichita Legislator sheds light on the alarming rate of missing and murdered Native American women

Kansas House Representative Ponka-We Victors (center) engages a group of Native American women regarding the need for legislation to address missing and murdered Indigenous peoples in Kansas.
Photo courtesy Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation
Kansas House Representative Ponka-We Victors (center) engages a group of Native American women regarding the need for legislation to address missing and murdered Indigenous peoples in Kansas.

Kansas Rep. Ponka-We Victors tries to bring attention to the growing concern of missing Native American women.

Native American women are vanishing across the country at an alarming rate. Kansas Rep. Ponka-We Victors of Wichita is working with the local chapter of the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women to raise awareness of the issue. For this edition of In the Mix, Carla Eckels spoke with Ponka-We Victors about the problem.

Interview Highlights

Rep. Victors, I'm curious, I know you're not running again for elected office currently, but I know you've been busy here in the Wichita community. What's been taking place?

Well, there's a big epidemic that's hit ... all throughout the country on in up into Canada with the First Nations people. We know that it's a problem, but I don't think a lot of people know that it's a big issue: Our native American women are missing at high rates and murdered.

When you say women missing, can you give us a little more detail? What's happening? What are you hearing and seeing?

What happens is that we go to the store, it could be anybody, it could be me and never coming home, or I'm gonna walk down to a friend's house and they go missing. Nobody really understands or knows why this is happening. There are a lot of factors that could come into play, but we are a targeted race as far as going missing. And we're talking like little girls on up to women.

You say that when Native American families review police reports, the tracking methodology differs from organization to organization.  

We will be misclassified as being Hispanic or other. There was no real data of how many of us have been missing ... there was no way to backtrack that evidence. And so that's a number one issue is being misclassified. Another issue is when cases grow cold, [they are] kind of just swept under the rug and not really knowing the steps and the process of when somebody is missing.

You have co-sponsored legislation that offers online training to police officers. What is the training? 

I worked with the Attorney General's office and created a new section of training for this murdered to missing indigenous women issue. And it's for law enforcement to train them in how to communicate with our community and how to work with our community as well. All tribes are different, and this training is to try to strengthen the issue.

The training, which is supported by the Kansas Attorney General's office, became available on the AG's website on July 1. You say it's important to learn more about the culture of indigenous people so we can help strengthen search efforts.

So, if we highlight more that this is a problem, and we have statistics to back that up, then that hopefully will help law enforcement and the families to work together faster so that they can try to find this missing person.

What can the community do as a whole, to help in this effort? What can we do to help when a Native American woman goes missing?

Share it on your social media sites. Thank God for social media because more of the information is starting to get out there now. And so, it's important that we all work together. And whenever we see something come across our page and it's like a Native American woman or something, share it within your social networks because you never know who that might reach.

Carla Eckels is Director of Organizational Culture at KMUW. She produces and hosts the R&B and gospel show Soulsations and brings stories of race and culture to The Range with the monthly segment In the Mix. Carla was inducted into The Kansas African American Museum's Trailblazers Hall of Fame in 2020 for her work in broadcast/journalism.