Coverage surrounding the tragic disappearance-turned-homicide of 22-year-old Gabrielle Petito, has been ubiquitous. The case has highlighted what Joy Reid, by way of Gwen Ifill, has referred to as “missing white woman syndrome.”
But in Wyoming, where Petito’s remains were found, there are literally hundreds of cases of missing Indigenous women and girls, none of which have received comparable coverage. According to a statewide report from the University of Wyoming, at least 710 Indigenous women have gone missing in Wyoming between 2011 and 2020. Eighty-five percent of those missing are kids. In the state, Indigenous residents account for 21% of homicide victims despite making up just 3% of the population, NPR reports.
Both daughters of Wyoming native Nicole Wagon were found dead between 2019 and 2020 according to Fox59.
Chelsea Hunter lost her 19-year-old sister, who disappeared in Oklahoma in April. Her sister is another face of unsolved cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women across the United States.
The Centers for Disease Control reports that homicide is the third leading cause of death among Indigenous women between the ages of 10 and 24, according to the YakimHerald. Additionally, Indigenous women are 10 times more likely to be murdered than other Americans, the Department of Justice reports.
Police heavily concentrated their search efforts for Gabby Petito at Grand Teton National Park, located less than two hours northwest of the Wind River Indian Reservation. The Wind River Indian Reservation remains the only reservation in the state that is home to many Shoshone and Arapaho Indians.
The statewide report says 22 out of the state’s 23 counties have reported that a countless number of Indigenous people have gone missing with only 30% of Indigenous homicide victims making the news, compared to 51% of white victims. But Wyoming Survey and Analysis Research Scientist Emily Grant said those numbers could be underestimated.
“A lot of times, it’s not necessarily checked with people from the community, a family member or something like that,” Grant hypothesized. “So it’s really likely that they could be miscategorized as Latino, white. And then you know, that if it’s the wrong race on there, it doesn’t show up.”
Grant also said the media’s portrayal when covering stories about missing Indigenous people is “overly graphic.”
“So you know, if [a white person] dies with firearms, you know, they may say ‘a gunshot wound.’ But in Indigenous cases, we’re seeing like, very graphic depictions of the body of the crime scene,” she added. “The circumstances that are just extra violent.”
Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon established the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Task Force in 2019 after being pressured by advocates to address the crisis, Insider reports. Last year, Gordon signed a bill to boost data collection of missing and murdered people, requiring officials to provide law enforcement with training on cases involving Indigenous people and mandated cooperation among law enforcement agencies.
Wyoming Rep. Andi Clifford (D-Fort Washakie) is a Northern Arapaho citizen who sits on the task force.
“The media needs to do a better job,” he added. “That’s somebody’s son, that’s somebody’s daughter, that’s somebody’s dad. They were loved.”