Giving Them A Voice: Advocating for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women
As we say goodbye to October and usher in November and the beginning of the holiday season, it is easy to overlook that November is Native American Heritage Month. Like indigenous people themselves, the month that honors the rich and diverse cultures, traditions, contributions, and histories of native people is oft forgotten and cast aside for the mainstream, feel-good tale of pilgrims and “Indians” at our nation’s first Thanksgiving feast.
However, the plights of this nation’s indigenous tribes – not to mention the atrocities that have been committed against their people in the name of American advancement - are some of this country’s gravest sins. And unfortunately, it continues. Indigenous women and children are being murdered and kidnapped at an extremely alarming rate while law enforcement agencies responsible for investigating and bringing home the missing are turning a blind eye. For example, the “ National Crime Information Center reports that, in 2016, there were 5,712 reports of missing American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls, though the US Department of Justice’s federal missing person database, NamUs, only logged 116 cases.” The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) Movement is standing up to say enough is enough, voicing the concern, hurt, disgust, and frustration of the thousands of families who are demanding justice. Compiling data from 71 US cities, the Urban Indian Health Institute points out that the Center for Disease Control reports that murder is the third leading cause of death for Native women and the murder rate of women living on reservations can be up to ten times higher than the national average. While many focus on the crimes committed against women, it is important to also acknowledge that 82% of indigenous men are victims of violence at some point in their lifetimes and indigenous children are more likely to experience trauma and abuse than their non-Native peers.
Advocates for the missing and murdered are trying to bring awareness to the issue – awareness through the media of each and every woman and child who disappears and awareness and understanding by the law enforcement agencies tasked with the duty of prevention and the investigation of these types of potential crimes who have historically overlooked the cries and pleas of the victim’s families. Advocates believe that this epidemic is worsened by the prejudicial stereotypes that indigenous people are lazy alcoholics and/or drug addicts – coupled with the crippling poverty that many face, especially those who move off the reservations and into cities. While most of us proudly celebrate the streets we grew up on, the towns we are from, and the landmarks we love, we ignore the harsh reality that the streets, lands, and landmarks we treasure are only ours after the brutal ouster of its original inhabitants. We are all keepers of indigenous lands, as marked by the names of our towns, bodies of water, and streets, and while we cannot change the past, we can make every effort to do right by the descendants of the original occupiers of this land. This November, I challenge all of us to provide a voice to the missing, to call attention to the biases and prejudices faced by the indigenous communities, to honor the sacrifices and lives of past generations of natives, and to acknowledge the injustices still faced by this community by taking affirmative steps to bring justice to the aggrieved.