Native Youth and the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples Crisis: Promoting Protective Factors as We Advocate for Change

By Ashley Trautman, National Native Children’s Trauma Center

Indian Country is challenged by a crisis that requires the attention of tribal leaders, spiritual and cultural teachers, elders and our communities.  Many of our families have a loved one who has gone missing or has been murdered. There is inadequate information about missing American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) children. In 2016, Amber Alerts in Indian Country indicate that 7,700 AIAN children and youth were identified as missing (National vs Native Missing Youth Statistics-A Side by Side Comparison).  It is believed that the number is a low representation of the number of missing and murdered children and youth and a grossly low accounting of missing and murdered Indigenous people.

Missing and Murdered Indigenous People (MMIP) has been understood as a law enforcement issue, but understanding the issues faced by Indigenous families and communities requires a multi-system approach. We know our relatives face multiple issues around the health and wellbeing in their families and communities which can increase their vulnerability to going missing or being murdered.  A community response to support children, youth, and families to prevent and intervene before the child or youth goes missing is critical, and ICWA, Courts, and Law Enforcements have a primary role in contributing to a systemic community response as well. Cross system collaborations are important for actions that create more comprehensive strategies to ensure our children and youth are protected, nurtured and loved.

An important consideration when supporting youth, families and communities impacted by MMIP is how we honor resiliency and promote protective factors for the youth we serve. We know that resilience can exist naturally, be built and can erode over time (National Native Children’s Trauma Center [National Native Children’s Trauma Center], n.d). To foster resilience, some approaches might include:

  • Creating opportunity for youth to connect to culture. Cultural connectedness (knowledge of and engagement with a youth’s tribal culture) has strong associations with positive mental health above and beyond other social determinants of health (Snowshoe et al., 2017).
  • Cultivating youth’s ability to building healthy relationships. We know that having at least one trusting relationship with a supportive adult is the single most important protective factor for youth. Remaining consistent and offering support that is unconditional may build trust with youth and be a powerful buffer against adversity (NNCTC, n.d).
  • Create opportunities for youth to engage in activities where they can gain a sense of competency.  This gives youth a sense of control over their life and builds an understanding that they can overcome difficulties (NNCTC, n.d.).

Something we should also consider is how to resist placing the responsibility for all healing within the individual. The expectation that individuals, families and communities can “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” can evoke shame when difficulties persist despite attempts to heal (NNCTC, n.d.). This perspective also neglects to consider how systemic forces such as historical trauma and colonization contribute to ongoing experience of trauma within many communities. Supporting healing through strong family ties, strong cultural identity while advocating for resources and community-based services may be a more comprehensive approach that responds to the complex experience of trauma.


National Native Children’s Trauma Center (n.d.). Trauma in tribal communities [PowerPoint slides]. Unpublished.

National vs Native Missing Youth Statistics-A Side by Side Comparison. Retrieved from

Snowshoe, A., Crooks, C.V., Tremblay, P.F., & Hinson, R.E. (2017). Cultural connectedness and its relation to mental wellness in First Nations youth. The Journal of Primary Prevention, 38(1-2), 67-86.

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