“The abuse of women is known in history, and tells you a lot about what is happening to our earth.”
―LaDonna Brave Bull Allard
Social media platforms are tattered with posts saying, “No More Stolen Sisters,” “This is Why We Wear Red,” “Invisible No More,” and “Justice for X” in remembrance of National Week of Action for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, April 29 to May 5. This unseen and ignored epidemic has plagued our Tribal nations since colonizers first stepped foot in the “new world.”
Missing and murdered Indigenous women is not a new concept to Indigenous peoples. Our grandmothers, mothers, daughters, sisters, and aunties have been disappearing for the last 530 years.
Destroying a people starts with annihilating the life-givers
If you no longer want a plant to grow and spread its seed, you pull it out by its roots. The loss of our sacred women, their uprooting, has created an imbalance to our Mother Earth and universe. And when the people who colonized you continue to perpetuate their disdain for you, it is hard to achieve that balance.
When I talk about balance, I am referring to the government and laws meant to protect us. However, when those laws favor colonizers, it throws off that equilibrium.
Many perpetrators murder, assault, and rape Indigenous women with impunity. These imbalanced laws have made it easy for outsiders to come onto our Tribal lands and get away with their crimes. The federal government is uninterested in the affairs of Tribes and has made it harder for Tribal governments to take care of their citizens, limiting power and due process.
“Am I next?”
This disturbing thought goes through the minds of many Native women as they go out into the world. And no wonder, with these alarming statistics from the Urban Indian Health Institute:
- 4 out of 5 Native women experience violence within their lifetimes
- Native women are murdered at a rate 10 times higher than the nation’s average
- Murder is the third leading cause of death for Indigenous women
- 56% of Indigenous women experience sexual violence
There are many more documented statistics like these. So, when Indigenous women ask, “Am I next?” they sure might be.
Most missing and murdered Indigenous people are children
Have you heard the story of Gabby Petito? Or of Jade Wagon or Jocelyn Watt?
In the same state, Wyoming, where Gabby Petito’s body was found, 710 missing and murdered Indigenous women and relatives, mostly girls, went missing from 2011 to 2020! A whopping 85% of these Natives were children, and almost 60% were female, according to the state’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous People Task Force.
The most astounding statistic is that 50% of these Indigenous people who went missing were found within one week, while 21% remain missing for 30 days or longer.
Here is the kicker: Only 11% of white people remain missing for that long. The total disregard for Indigenous life is engrained throughout the system.
We need to change the narrative
“Disproportionate” is the term we use to describe many statistics about Indigenous people, such as, “Natives are disproportionately affected by COVID, diabetes, suicide, murder, poverty, etc.”
However, the words I would suggest to describe these statistics are “absolutely devastating and unacceptable.”
For over 500 years, settlers have committed genocide against Tribal peoples and shucked any responsibility for their role it. Instead, the federal government continues to decline policy that would protect us and sets forth policy that continues to oppress us.
Women will persevere
Unfortunately, the lack of sanctity toward our grandmothers, mothers, daughters, sisters, and aunties is a common phenomenon and seen throughout the world, especially within Indigenous communities.
We have commercialized scantily clothed pretendians, and glorified tales of white saviors. Dehumanizing our people makes it easier to justify the actions of those who would hurt us.
But there is hope because women are resilient beings. They are the beauty that make this world what it is. They are the givers of life, and they will persevere.
We must continue the good fight to protect them and their right to life. Our society must enact laws that protect them and bring more women into the political arena to ensure that laws are made for us, not against us.
We must make sure we are holding perpetrators accountable, and we must create a space for our women to survive, thrive, and be part of those important conversations.
Women not only hold the memory of the past, but they also hold the key to the future, and we must do whatever is in our power to protect them.
How you can help
The best way to stop these heinous crimes against Native women, girls and their relatives is to learn more about the problem and make others aware of it by spreading the word.
The National Week of Action for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls is April 29 to May 5.
Also, read how First Nations is trying to “move hearts and minds toward greater respect, inclusion, and social justice for Native Americans” through our special project, Reclaiming Native Truth.
First Nations Development Officer