Special Report: Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls

By  | 

ROSEBUD, S.D. (KOTA TV) - Red dresses swayed quietly in the wind as they hung across the door step of the Racing Magpie art studio in Rapid City on May 5, 2018.

But, they weren't there to be worn. And they weren’t meant to hang in anyone’s closet.

Instead, they were there to represent a movement sweeping across North America, calling attention to the number of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.

The Department of Justice reports that on some reservations, women are murdered at 10 times the national average.

Lily Mendoza, an advocate of this movement, says there is a lack of consistent data surrounding these murdered or missing women and as a result, cases remained unsolved.

For Elizabeth Roubideaux, this is more than just a stat. Because for the last 21 years, she has been looking for answers in the murder of her daughter.

“A crab apple tree, in memory of my daughter.”

Now October, Roubideaux walks her property on the Rosebud Indian Reservation. She points to at least 20 different kinds trees she’s planted in honor of 11 year-old daughter Richynda, who went missing in September of 1997.

“She asked to spend the night with a friend, so I let her and I never let my kids spend the night anywhere,” said Elizabeth. “She didn’t come back by noon, so I asked my oldest daughter to go get her and they couldn’t find her anywhere. So I went walking looking for her and nobody knew where she was.”

When Richynda was found, weeks later, it was too late. She was found murdered.

To this day, no one has been charged with the crime.

“It wouldn’t make me whole, but maybe it would ease some of the pain knowing what happened to her,” said Elizabeth.

Richynda adds to a list of names of missing or murdered indigenous women in South Dakota.

This list, compiled by PhD student Annita Luchessi, names women dating back until the 1970’s.

KOTA Territory News took this list to the FBI to understand what cases remain unsolved. Out of 64 names, they told us that only five cases remained unsolved, with three women they had no information on at all.

Seven women on the list who were reported missing have been located.

The FBI also said there were 16 women listed whose deaths are not classified as murders. They died of exposure, accidental overdose or other causes. Five died of a vehicular homicide.

But Lily believes even more names belong on this list.

“Years can go by before the police, tribal police and FBI really take it seriously,” said Lily. “That yea, these women didn’t just walk away. They really are missing.”

The FBI has told KOTA Territory News in the past that for tribal police, reporting any crime on the reservation to federal law enforcement is voluntary. Some reservations do, while some may not.

Advocates believe a lack of consistent data adds to the already complicated system of jurisdiction between local, federal and tribal law.

“I don’t think it’s reported,” said President of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Rodney Bordeaux. “Some of these local agencies may not take it seriously. Law enforcement maybe is not reporting actual numbers because sometimes they wait a few days and sometimes it gets swept under the rug.”

“One missing woman is too much,” he added.

“We need to start paying attention to this and we need to work together as a community to stop this,” said Lily.

Elizabeth Roubideaux is doing her part by searching for answers to the murder of her daughter. And while she does this, she keeps Richynda’s memory alive.

“She had a dream. She wanted to join the army. She wanted to be in the Air Force. She wanted to fly. And I believe she could’ve did it,” said Roubideaux. “Come forward and tell. If you know anything, come forward and tell. She needs justice, we need justice for her.”

If you have any information on the murder of Richynda Roubideaux, please call 1-888-577-6747.