While the country grapples with human rights injustices and political strife, one topic in particular weighs heavy on my mind and heart. "Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women," recently coined by the hashtag, #MMIW is not a new phenomenon, but only now formally being recognized as an epidemic and addressed at a legislative level.
A red handprint across the mouth has become a symbolic representation of violence that affects Indigenous women across Canada and the United States.
According to a report in the Minnesota Law Review, Native Women are twice as likely to be victims of violent crimes, and in some US counties, those statistics are much higher. "Rape of Native American and Alaska Native women occurs at a disproportionately high rate compared to women in other racial and ethnic groups in the United States. The perpetrators overwhelmingly come from outside the Native American community and their crimes generally go uninvestigated and unprosecuted. Jurisdictional issues present the main barrier to prosecution and play a large role in the disparity. Some scholars suggest that the prevalence of such violent incidents may increase as new gambling and tourism initiatives bring non-Indians into closer contact with Native American women living on reservations."
In a report by the US Department of the Interior, "data gaps and conflicts over jurisdiction are a large part of the problem, since Federal, state, Tribal and local governments share responsibilities in many of these cases. These data gaps impact how law enforcement officials handle or follow up on cases. Underreporting, racial misclassification, potential gender or racial bias, and a lack of law enforcement resources required to follow through and close out cases appropriately, are just some of the challenges faced when working on MMIP (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons) cases."
Progress is being made on the legislative front with two bi-partisan bills passed in the Senate on September 24, 2020.
Savanna’s Act will require the Justice Department to develop guidelines for responding to cases of missing or murdered Native Americans, report statistics on those cases, provide required law enforcement agency training, and to work with tribes and tribal organizations in implementing its strategy.
Also passed was the Not Invisible Act, the first federal bill to be introduced by four enrolled members of federally recognized tribes. The companion bill would make the federal government step up its response to MMIW, establishing an advisory panel composed of law enforcement, tribal leaders, service providers and survivors focused on violent crime against Indigenous women. It joins Savanna’s Act on its current journey to the president’s desk.
To bring the issue full circle, the Four Corners is home to a number reservations and has seen its fair share of violence perpetrated against Native women. One victim in particular was a close friend of mine from childhood. Sadie was assaulted and murdered for tribal money she received when she turned 18. The issue has a face for me, and I hope to honor her memory and those of all the other MMIW who have died or gone missing.
Model: Lyndsey Hanna, Southern Ute Indian Tribal Member
Dress: Ashes and Embers
Statistics and Resources: US Department of Interior; Minnesota Law Journal; The Hill; Cultural Survival Organization; Urban Indian Health Institute; Ultra Violet Organization