On September 25, Minneapolis councilmember Gary Schiff’s monthly breakfast meeting addressed the trafficking of Native American girls and women in Minnesota. Guest speakers Suzanne Koepplinger, Executive Director of the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center (MWIRC) and Suzanne Tibbits Young from the Division of Indian Work presented the results of recent research on the subject in an effort to increase community awareness of this issue.
About 20 people attended the meeting, which included a summary of the report entitled “Shattered Hearts: The Commercial Sexual Exploitation of American Indian Women and Girls in Minnesota.” The MIWRC and the Division of Indian Work also made recommendations for confronting the problem. The report was spurred by a 2007 Human Trafficking Task Force estimate that showed a disproportionate amount of Native American Women experiencing sexual exploitation.
In response to the August 2009 report, Suzanne Koepplinger discussed finding solutions that would be “meeting the needs of the victim from their perspective, not our perspective.” A view shared by both Koepplinger and Tibbits Young was that a multidimensional approach to helping victims is key, considering the number of contributing factors associated with this problem. The women explained that poverty, lack of housing options, lack of importance placed on education, and institutionalized racism are all contributing factors to the increased number of Native American women in risk of sexual exploitation.
A main focus of the meeting was community awareness of the problem. Suzanne Tibbits Young stressed that support from the community is a large stepping-stone to action. Tibbits Young said that to begin helping, the first step is to agree that, “Our community is not going to accept this”. The MIWRC and Division of Indian Work are promoting the development of broad based training programs aimed at educating police, teachers and medical providers to recognize signs or risks of sexual exploitation.
Breakfast with Gary is a monthly community meeting hosted by 9th ward council member Gary Schiff held at Mercado Central .