CDC’s National Violent Death Reporting System Helps Tell the Story of Homicides of American Indian and Alaska Native People

A recently published CDC report is helping uncover the characteristics of homicides of American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) people. Analyzed and reported for the first time, data from the National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS) show that of the 2,226 AI/AN homicides reported in 34 states and the District of Columbia from 2003-2018:

  • The rate of homicide was three times higher in AI/AN males than females (12 versus 4 per 100,000)
  • Approximately half of victims lived (48%) or were killed (53%) in metropolitan areas
  • A firearm was used in nearly half (48%) of homicides
  • For female victims, 38% of suspects were current or former intimate partners

“This data comes at a critical time to address an urgent public health problem,” said Debra Houry, MD, MPH, Acting Principal Deputy Director of CDC. “Our hope is that this report will help dispel common misperceptions about homicides among American Indian and Alaska Native persons. Now we must use the data to support effective strategies to prevent homicide deaths among American Indian and Alaska Native persons.”

Additionally, the report found that of the suspects of AI/AN homicide:

  • Most (80%) were young adult males and 42% were age 18-34 years
  • Nearly one-third (32%) were AI/AN
  • Most knew their victims – over 60% of victims knew the suspect in their homicides

“Violence is preventable, and data must guide our work,” Christopher M. Jones, PharmD, DrPH, MPH, acting director of CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. “To stop violence in American Indian and Alaska Native people and communities before it starts, we need effective solutions that are culturally relevant, incorporate native traditions, and take into account the factors that impact violence for all American Indian and Alaska Native people.”

This report includes many implications for prevention, and efforts to prevent violence within AI/AN communities can have greater impact when they use and adapt approaches and values

that are inherent in AI/AN communities. One critical strategy for preventing interpersonal violence is to teach safe and healthy relationship skills through social-emotional learning programs for youth. Programs such as Discovery Dating leverage the unique AI/AN culture and community to shape positive outcomes, and a culturally adapted version of Coaching Boys Into Men builds knowledge and positive attitudes about healthy masculinity, relationships, nonviolent problem solving, and being an active bystander. Cultural practices can be interwoven into proven violence prevention programs such as these for AI/AN people regardless of tribal or urban residency.

Missing or Murdered Indigenous People (MMIP) is an issue that has gained national attention in recent years. Homicide was the fifth leading cause of death in 2019 for AI/AN males and the seventh leading cause of death for AI/AN females ages 1–54 years. AI/AN people also have reported high levels of intimate partner violence, including physical or sexual violence, stalking, or psychological harm by a current or former intimate partner or spouse. American Indian and Alaska Native people also experience higher rates of adverse childhood experiences, such as child abuse and neglect and family and community violence, putting AI/AN people at further risk for other forms of violence, such as homicide. The risk factors for violence are compounded by historical (war, loss of land, language, access to traditional ways, and cultural identity), intergenerational (child and elder abuse and neglect), and ongoing (racism and structural inequities) traumas.

To help address the issue of MMIP on a federal level, The Presidential Task Force on Missingexternal icon and Murdered American Indians and Alaska external iconNatives, also known as Operation Lady Justice, was established in 2019 to enhance the operation of the criminal justice system and to address the concerns of AI/AN communities regarding MMIP. In 2020, Savanna’s Act was passed to increase federal governmental agency coordination to reduce violent crimes within tribal lands and against AI/AN people. The Not Invisible Act directed the Department of Justice to review, revise, and develop law enforcement and justice protocols to address MMIP.

Violence is preventable, and in addition to existing AI/AN community efforts, CDC supports the use and adaptation of violence prevention technical packages and the Veto Violence program tools and training.


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