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Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women
There is currently an underreported epidemic occurring in the United States, Canada, Australia and other nations with indigenous populations. Indigenous women are being murdered or have gone missing and despite the numbers being staggering, the media has not picked up the stories. While attempting to understand this epidemic many have begun to look into the data regarding these murders and missing peoples cases to determine exactly how bad the epidemic is and what is being done about it. The results are disheartening, the data is incomplete and the media is still largely ignoring the issue.
Many people are not indigenous have found out about the missing and murdered indigenous women, girls, and two spirit people thanks to social media. Hashtags on social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook have begun to spread the awareness to younger people. “The high rates of assault, abduction and murder that Indigenous women face have been occurring for decades — the only recent thing about the crisis is the growing attention from non-Native people, which is crucial” (Stumblingbear-Riddle, 2018). The Native people already know this is an ongoing issue. In order to get the issues addressed everyone needs to be upset about it, everyone needs to push for answers. There is an old adage that says the squeaky wheel gets the grease; this means that Native people need Non-Native peoples to add their voices to theirs.
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“In the United States today, American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) women are nearly 2.5 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than women in the general population; 70 percent of these violent victimizations are committed by persons of a different race” (Stumblingbear-Riddle, 2018). Over the course of the past year, there has been a great social surge in supporting women who have been victimized. This support needs to swing to the Native women, girls, and two spirit people. According to the research, being a Native woman makes one more likely to become a victim of a crime than a woman who is a Non-Native.
“According to NWAC (Native Women’s Association), while there might be some disagreement about the exact numbers of MMIW (Murdered, Missing Indigenous Women), there is a growing need for an independent database that would serve as a tool for local advocacy and violence prevention” (Moeke-Pickering, 2018). The data is not being kept in a way that would make it easy to locate or collect for data purposes. Many women who are murdered or have gone missing belong to tribes and their tribes are often not told by police that these women have been murdered or have gone missing. Many are not aware of the legalities between the State/Federal governments and Tribal governments.
The traditional media, as well as, social media depict indigenous people in an unflattering manner. Many times when crimes against indigenous people are shown on the media, the crimes are not reported in the manner they would be if the crime had been committed against a person of a different ethnic background, the crimes are often minimized as to make viewers think the indigenous people may have deserved to be victimized. Indigenous women are often depicted as prostitutes and that they are irresponsible. This type of negative and false reporting helps to encourage not only crimes to continue but it encourages society to view indigenous women as being deserving of crimes committed against them.
In the research there is a quote by SIP President Gayle Skawennio Morse, PhD: “As the Cheyenne long have insisted, no people is broken until the heart of its women is on the ground. Then they are broken. Then will they die” (Stumblingbear-Riddle, 2018). This quote beautifully illustrates the cultural implications of these unsolved murders and missing peoples. Culturally speaking, these crimes are an attack on the whole of indigenous peoples not just the victims as individuals. The ramifications of these crimes radiate outward and in order to stop not only crimes from continuing to occur, the cultural attack itself must be brought to an end. It just so happens that the actions of solving these crimes would help both the women, girls, and two spirit people but the indigenous peoples as a whole.
Canadian authorities and government launched an investigation into the reports that indigenous women and girls were being murdered and going missing and that these crimes are escalating with no one attempting to address it. “A recent report from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police confirmed that rates of missing person reports and homicide are disproportionately higher among Aboriginal women and girls than in the non-Aboriginal female population” (Patrick, 2016). This report is mimicking the data that United States is showing, according to the research cited above. Indigenous women and girls in the entire North American continent are falling victim to murder and apparent kidnappings at an alarming rate.
“It’s clear that a common web — woven of a legacy of colonization and cultural genocide, and a cumulative history of societal neglect, discrimination and injustice — underlies both endemic interpersonal violence and health disparities in Canada’s indigenous populations” (Patrick, 2016). This research points out that one must know and understand the history of what indigenous people have endured in order to fully grasp the modern dilemmas they are facing. It’s at the intersectionality of many variables where these indigenous women are falling victim to the crimes of others. The indigenous communities have realized this and while they are asking for the voices of non-Natives to join theirs they are making moves to attempt to help their own communities and prevent these statistics from increasing.
The indigenous peoples have begun “Increasing community control over social, political and physical environments has been linked to improvements in health and health determinants” (Patrick, 2016). Native communities have not been treated fairly, from a historical perspective, by their colonial counterparts. They are still not treated fairly in modern times. One can certainly understand the desire to help one’s own community and not rely on the ‘other’ when the ‘other’ has treated native peoples very poorly for a very long time.
The Urban Indian Health Institute conducted a study of 71 cities where there were missing and/or murdered indigenous women in an attempt to compile data. The results were astounding and disheartening. “UIHI identified 506 unique cases of missing and murdered American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls across the 71 selected cities—128 (25%) were missing persons cases, 280 (56%) were murder cases, and 98 (19%) had an unknown status” (Institute, 2018). The group reached out to 71 city police departments and 1 state agency. The response rates are shocking. “40 agencies provided some level of data…14 agencies did not provide data…18 agencies still have pending requests for data” (Institute, 2018). According to Ann Lucchesi, one officer attempted to provide their own recollection of case as data.
“…Several police departments provided UIHI with data that included both American Indians and Indian-Americans with visibly Indian-American surnames (e.g. Singh)” (Institute, 2018). This type of misclassification can skew data. In addition, one police chief stated that if a race of a victim is unknown their system automatically classifies them as Caucasian. Not only does this not help provide information to families of victims or the tribes those indigenous victims belonged to, it also skews the data surrounding the victims who are Caucasian.
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“The missing and murdered indigenous women have disappeared “not once, but three times,” the researchers write: “in life, in the media, and in the data” (Domonoske, 2018). This author makes a good point in relation to the research. In life, indigenous women are not treated fairly by their non-native peers, the media does not shine a forgiving light on them, and the data does not give an accurate representation of what crimes they have fallen victim to. This author also points out that it is not only non-natives that are committing these crimes against native women.
“Native women living on tribal lands are murdered at an extremely high rate — in some communities, more than 10 times the national average, according to research funded by the Department of Justice” (Domonoske, 2018). This means that native women are not only falling victim to their non-native peers but they are also falling victim to their indigenous peers as well. Because both groups of people, non-native and indigenous, are committing crimes against indigenous women, it makes sense for the tribal government and state/federal governments both work together to ensure their safety and the accurate and comprehensive collection of data surrounding the crimes that are committed against the indigenous women.
It was only recently, through social media, that I was made aware of this issue. Before I saw the hashtags and read the online postings about missing and murdered indigenous women I would have thought the issue, if it were serious, would be covered by the news. I realized that the only thing I had heard was a small blurb about a contestants outfit on a reality television show that was bringing attention to murdered indigenous women. I had no idea how bad the problem was until I began to research the topic.
I find it astounding that nations that have been colonized all share this disturbing statistic, they all have indigenous women who are going missing or are being murdered. It’s not just something that is occurring in the United States, but also in places like Canada and Australia. These governments have been failing the native populations since the first ships landed on their shores. It was very sad to see that they are continuing to fail them.
The most shocking part of the research, for me, was the research conducted by the Urban Indian Health Institute. I would have never thought that police departments would blatantly ignore requests for data, or claim they never received the requests, even after they were provided with proof that the requests were made. The issues cannot be addressed until the data is collected and analyzed. The officer who attempted to substitute their memory of a case was truly disturbing.
The social media movement that the tribes are engaging in is very clever. Social media has a lot of power in modern times, it has the power to force the media to pay attention to the issue and cover it in a way that does justice to the issue and to the victims. Those who live in these nations that find themselves enduring this terrible epidemic of murdered and missing indigenous women owe a great deal to the native people. Native people have suffered immensely so that these nations could be what they are today, and everyone should count themselves as an ally, especially in regards to this issue.
The more people who join in the movement on social media the better. Using the hashtags can help something go viral, but attaching the stories to the hashtags is how one can spread true understanding by sharing information. Indigenous women, girls, and two spirit people are going missing and being murdered at a much higher rate than those who are not indigenous. It is even possible that social media can force people to share the data hey have on these victims.
The research also highlighted the fact that record keeping needs to be updated in a manner that would allow police departments and other agencies to keep better detailed records concerning victims of crimes. If the race of a victim is unknown it should be listed as such instead of allowing it to default to Caucasian. It is also a bit racist to allow software to lump Indigenous people together with people that are Indian or of Indian decent (from India the nation). These are two different groups of people, and incorrect data keeping on either could be hiding potential hate crimes. There are many changes that need to occur in order for the issue of these murdered and missing women to be solved and to help prevent the issues from continuing.
I was also unaware that the media was doing such a poor job of showing indigenous people as people. I do not believe I have ever seen anything where they actively paint indigenous people in a bad light, such as being prostitutes. I had seen the media depict alcohol use on reservations and the poor quality schools that native children are forced to attend. We live in a very visual society now, and it is the duty of the media to cover stories that have an impact on all people. They show stories about celebrities new hair styles or new babies but are seemingly ignoring that native women are just vanishing, either by going missing or being murdered.
The respective nations all seem to not be doing very much to address these issues. It seems to me that the United Nations may have to become involved because they have a list of Human Rights that cover the rights of Native peoples. Perhaps change can simultaneously come from the bottom up and from the top down and meet in the middle to get it done. If grassroots movements ramp up and the United Nations apply pressure from their position perhaps the urging of both can push national governments to make the changes the native peoples need.
The native communities have been working very hard to get the attention of as many people as they can. They have utilized any medium they can in order to shine the spotlight on their missing women, girls, and two spirit people. By non-natives joining their fight and becoming ally’s, not telling their story for them but merely sharing their stories and ensuring that their voices are not covered up or drowned out by others, can a real difference be made. These women are people and they deserve to be treated with respect and care by the society in which they have lived their lives. We all owe them the truth and to amplify their voices is the very least we can do until those who can do something about this actually do what they must.
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