When Melissa Eagleshield left her friend's rural home outside of Detroit Lakes in the early hours of Oct. 5, 2014, she would never be seen again.
And, at that moment, Eagleshield became yet another number in the growing and complex crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women.
And crisis is the correct term. Across the U.S. and Canada, the dangers that face indigenous women are becoming clear. So, too, is the underreporting of violence against those girls and women.
According to information from the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women, a national advocacy organization:
Native American women face murder rates that are more than 10 times the national average (U.S. Department of Justice);
and homicide is the third leading cause of death among American Indian and Alaska Native women ages 10-24, and the fifth leading cause of death for those between 25 and 34 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
Dana Ferguson, who reports from St. Paul for Forum Communications newspapers, including the Tribune, wrote last month that "federal reports show that Native Americans disappear at twice the rate per capita of white Americans, though they make up a much smaller portion of the population."
The Minnesota Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Task Force was launched last month to tackle these issues head-on. Over the next 15 months, according to Ferguson, the group will write a report guiding law enforcement and the Legislature on the systemic causes of violence against Native American women and girls.
It should also address the communication breakdowns and cultural schisms that create an environment that treats a missing Native American woman differently from others.
Forum reporters Ferguson, Sarah Mearhoff and Natasha Rausch are launching an investigation into the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Minnesota and the Dakotas.
They want to speak with the families of victims, survivors of violence and the people and communities that are seeking to solve these cases. To share your stories with them, email MMIW@forumcomm.com or call 877-583-1817.
Through the task force, the reporting project and increased awareness, maybe some peace can be found for families like Melissa Eagleshield's.
Can you help?
Melissa Dawn Eagleshield has been missing since 2014:
- 5-foot, 1-inch tall, 155 pounds, with light brown hair and hazel eyes.
- Last seen on Oct. 5, 2014, at 40277 County Road 126 near Island Lake.
- She was wearing a black shirt and sweatpants or pajama pants with a South Park logo.
If anyone has information on the disappearance of Eagleshield or finds anything suspicious, contact the Becker County Sheriff’s Office at 218-847-2661.