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Fifth Annual Native American and Indigenous People’s Day Symposium–“Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirit People: From Awareness to Action”

By Amanda Peterson

Next week TCU will host its 5th annual Native American and Indigenous People’s Day Symposium. The main events will take place between October 4th and 5th and will include presentations and a panel discussion; the first event will take place this Thursday, September 30 (see below for a full schedule).

This year’s symposium theme is “Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirit People: From Awareness to Action.” MMIWG2S is a social movement that highlights the rate of violence directed towards Native women, girls, and two-spirit people in Canada and the U.S. Through the movement, First Nation activists seek to bring awareness to this crisis that has historically been impeded by the absence of a comprehensive data collection system, as well as few prosecutions for such violence.

Annita Hetoevehotohke’e Lucchesi, Executive Director of Sovereign Bodies Institute

Attendees can look forward to hearing from Annita Hetoevehotohke’e Lucchesi (Cheyenne descent).  An Indigenous researcher and cartographer of violence against Indigenous peoples and femicide, among other topics, Lucchesi serves as executive director of Sovereign Bodies Institute. SBI supports Indigenous survivors of violence and impacted families by gathering data, sharing knowledge, and offering therapy services. Lucchesi will be delivering a presentation and the event’s keynote lecture, both via Zoom.

Through her own experiences and her witness of others’ experiences, Lucchesi has felt “called to this work and asked to serve in this way.”

A part of these experiences is facing misconceptions of sex trafficking and Indigenous people. Lucchesi explains that the common image of strangers in white vans usually isn’t the reality. Instead, perpetrators are often close to their target and encouraged by structures of violence. Additionally, there are many stereotypes of Indigenous people, which allow others to ignore their plights. Lucchesi says, “We’re made to be invisible; but even when we are visible, we’re perceived as thieves or poor or addicts.”

Lucchesi points to the result of this: the “lethal indifference that the general public shows to Native people.” This indifference means that acts of violence against Indigenous people often go unnoticed and unaddressed, or improperly addressed. Events like the symposium help raise awareness around these issues by providing an opportunity to hear directly from Native people, those who best understand the impacts of systems of violence and Indigenous erasure.

Lucchesi focuses on the empowerment of Native nations and people. She says, “My work is about being of service to the families and survivors impacted by this violence and about empowering tribal nations and Indigenous communities to exercise their sovereignty and self-determination to end this violence and to protect their citizens.”

In a similar vein, Lucchesi hopes that her presentations at the symposium will uplift students who may feel they don’t belong in academia. She states, “I want all of us to feel that we have ideas worth listening to and that we are our own knowledge producers and our own experts. We come to these institutions for the skills and credentials, and then we leave and use them in service of our community.”

Like Lucchesi, Dr. Scott Langston, TCU’s Native American Nations and Communities Liaison and one of the symposium coordinators, wants to uplift the voices of Indigenous people. He says, “The symposium has always been focused on learning from Native Americans about topics that are relevant and important to them.”

Ahyla Grey Bull, Destiny Spoonhunter, Kiera Spoonhunter, Alea Sanchez, Alicia Sanchez, Annalilla Sanchez and Arianna Sanchez pose for a portrait to raise awareness of missing and murdered Indigenous people. Photo by Paulita Spoonhunter for NPR.

With this in mind, Dr. Langston explains that the theme of the 2021 symposium was chosen as one way for TCU to fulfill “our commitment to honor missing and murdered Indigenous women and raise awareness about this issue.” He also points to the fact that, while this is a serious contemporary issue, it is not a new one. Instead, this violence has been a structural reality since Columbus arrived in 1492 and is “another expression of colonization.”

Dr. Langston’s hopes for this year’s symposium can be understood by the tag “From Awareness to Activism.” He hopes that events “will raise awareness and respect for Native American peoples, cultures, and perspectives,” as well as for the crisis that is this year’s theme; but, he also wants to see that heightened awareness translated into action. To do this, he says, “we have to take a hard look at ourselves and examine how our thoughts and actions might be rooted in the ideas and goals of colonization. Then we must act to eliminate them.”

TCU and WGST actively seek the guidance of Indigenous peoples and Native nations. As such, MMIW: Texas Rematriate, a local Indigenous organization and community partner of WGST, took a leadership role in planning the symposium. In an ongoing relationship with this community organization, WGST has hosted several pedagogy workshops designed to help faculty incorporate MMIG2S into their curriculum. Additionally, TCU established the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women scholarship for those committed to this issue. The scholarship honors those affected by this violence, raises awareness, and educates future Indigenous leaders. The 2020-2021 winners are Haylee Chiariello and Angel Guyton.

TCU is also developing relationships with Native nations, including the Witchita and Affiliated Tribes, Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas, and the Chickasaw Nation. Further, the university has a Native American Advisory Circle, a group of Native people both from within and outside of TCU, who offer guidance on various matters.

As the 2021 Native American and Indigenous People’s Day Symposium approaches, please save the date for these events:

  • Two Spirits Film Screening and Discussion (Sept. 30 at 7 pm, Sid-Rich LH-2)
  • Presentation by Annita Lucchesi (Oct. 4 at 2:00 pm, virtual, register below)
  • Keynote Lecture by Annita Lucchesi (Oct. 4 at 7:00 pm, virtual, register below)
  • American Indian Tribal and Community Panel on MMIWG2S (Oct. 5 at 6:30 pm, virtual, register below)

All events are free to attend, with registration required for the three virtual events.

For more information on symposium events and schedules, as well as TCU’s interaction with Indigenous Peoples, visit TCU’s Native American & Indigenous Peoples Initiative webpage (https://www.tcu.edu/native-american-indigenous-peoples/index.php).

Those wanting to know more about MMIWGS2 can find resources on the Women & Gender Studies website under initiatives (https://sis.tcu.edu/wgst/initiatives/mmiw/).

*Topics discussed at this year’s symposium are difficult and could be triggering or hard to process. TCU’s resources are available to help, including a 24/7 counseling helpline (817-257-SAFE (7233)). More resources can be found at https://care.tcu.edu/ and https://counseling.tcu.edu/.