How Teishia Big Back died is a mystery and it’s one her cousin says nobody seems to be interested in solving, and now that cousin is fighting for a law to provide answers.
Legislative bill 154 would require the Nebraska State Patrol to collect data on missing Native American women. It would also require them to work with tribal, local and federal law enforcement agencies to figure out ways to prevent these women from falling through the cracks.
On Thursday, 6 News spoke with Colette Yellow Robe, whose second cousin went missing in 2017 and is believed to have been murdered. “They don't have either the resources, or access to training, that would empower themselves to look for the signs of what's going, trafficking, or abducted women. They may not have the information. It's going to take a complete evaluation of our system to look at it." Colette was raised on the Winnebago Reservation and now teaches UNL.
Teishia went missing in Billings, Montana and when she thinks about her cousin’s fate she says, “I'm horrified when I think of how long she could have laid out there. It’s cold. It's cold up there. She wasn't just intoxicated and slipped and fell. There were other circumstances that were involved that really dismiss her life really and that's basically a very real story of a lot of Native American women that were oftentimes categorized as disposable, transient, promiscuous, under the influence of alcohol and drugs and so it's an easy case to open and shut."
A 2017 report from the Urban Indian Health Institute shows that nationwide there were 5,712 reported cases of missing or murdered Native American women. It's a number believed by experts to be a drastic under-representation because so many of these case don't get properly reported.
It's this type systematic failure that former Senator Heidi Heitkamp tried to address in a bill last year. Now a similar bill is going to the floor of the legislature. If the bill passes into law, the State Patrol would be required to file a report on their findings to lawmakers in June of 2020.