Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirit People
In collaboration with the Native American and Indigenous Studies Working Group and in solidarity with MMIR TX-ReMatriate, Women & Gender Studies is helping to raise awareness on the topic of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people.
From the Native American & Indigenous Studies Working Group:
Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirit People (MMIWG2S) refers to a social movement originating among First Nations activists in Canada working to raise awareness of the high rates of violence Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people experience in the United States and Canada. A recent study by the National Institute of Justice showed that “more than four in five American Indian and Alaska Native women (84.3 percent) have experienced violence in their lifetime.” While violent crimes against Native women, girls, and two-spirit people often go unprosecuted, the lack of any comprehensive data collection system hinders our understanding of the depth of the crisis.
This, however, is not a new issue. One study indicated that from 1979 to 1992, homicide was the third leading cause of death among Native American women, ages 15 to 34. Furthermore, Professor Sarah Deer (Muscogee/Creek) of the University of Kansas pointed out in her 2019 testimony before the U.S. House subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States that, “Native women and girls have been disappearing since 1492, when Europeans kidnapped Native people for shipment back to Europe.”
WGST is committed to supporting local Native American activists and helping to raise awareness about this important topic, in conjunction with broader university initiatives and commitments to MMIWG2S. We acknowledge the sacredness of all missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people and understand that this is not merely a topic of study and research. The data collected on MMIW2GS, especially by the Sovereign Bodies Institute, is held as sacred by Indigenous peoples; we only share what local Indigenous organizations feel is appropriate for public engagement. We are committed to treating MMIWG2S with the utmost respect and sensitivity.
Thanks to WGST affiliate Dr. Scott Langston (Department of Religion) for his work on this.
In conjunction with TCU’s annual Native American and Indigenous Peoples Day Symposium in October 2019, Women & Gender Studies hosted a pedagogy workshop with over 20 participants that helped to give instructors more tools to meaningfully and appropriately engage this difficult topic.
In spring 2020, TCU faculty, including many WGTS affiliates, engaged MMIWG2S in their classes in the following ways:
- Bill Galyean (3 sections of ARGD 10143, “Intro to Visual Communication” and 1 section of ARGD 40300, “Visiting Designers”)
- Diana Selman (2 sections of ARGD 10143, “Intro to Visual Communication”)
- Andre Yanez (ARGD 10143, “Intro to Visual Communication”)
- Mary Waller (MANA 70970, “Special Problems in Management”)
- Kallie Kosc (HIST 40703, “Indians Of The U.S.”)
- Amina Zarrugh (SOCI 30863, “Gender Politics”)
- Eric Kojola (SOCI 20223, “Social Problems”)
- Santiago Pinon (LTNX 20003, “Intro to LTNX Studies,” HCOL 40000, “Experimental Course—Citizenship,” and 2 sections of RELI 10043, “Understanding Religion”).
If you want to learn more about MMIWG2S or are considering incorporating the topic/movement into one of your classes, here are some resources to consult:
MMIWG2S Resources and General Information
Reports, Studies, and Legislation:
Maze of Injustice: The failure to protect Indigenous women from sexual violence in the USA. Amnesty International. 2006.
The Violence Against Women Act – Title IX: Safety for Indian Women. Tribal Court Clearinghouse.
Title IX—Safety for Indian Women. Section 901. Findings. VAWA 2005 Re-authorization H.R. 3171, 109th Congress, 2005-2006.
“Congress finds that during the period 1979 through 1992, homicide was the third leading cause of death of Indian females aged 15 to 34, and 75 percent were killed by family members or acquaintances.”
The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act—S. 1925. Title IX: Safety for Indian Women. National Congress of American Indians.
Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Reauthorization 2013. U.S. Department of Justice.
A Roadmap for Making Native America Safer. Report to the President & Congress of the United States. November 2013. Indian Law & Order Commission.
Violence Against American Indian and Alaska Native Women and Men. National Institute of Justice. NIJ Journal No. 277. June 2016.
Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls: A snapshot of data from 71 urban cities in the United States. Urban Indian Health Institute. 2018. http://www.uihi.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Missing-and-Murdered-Indigenous-Women-and-Girls-Report.pdf
Indian Country Today: Urban Indian Health report identifies 506 urban Missing & Murdered Women, Girls. U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski Press Release. Nov. 14, 2018. https://www.murkowski.senate.gov/press/article/indian-country-today-urban-indian-health-report-identifies-506-urban-missing-and-murdered-women-girls
Subcommittee Hearing: Unmasking the Hidden Crisis of Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women (MMIW): Exploring Solutions to End the Cycle of Violence. Subcommittee for Indigenous People of the United States. Natural Resources Committee. U.S. House of Representatives. March 14, 2019.
Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. (Canada; 2019). You can also see more here.
No More Stolen Sisters. Amnesty International.
Includes the following reports:
Stolen Sisters: A human rights response to discrimination and violence against Indigenous women in Canada (2004)
No More Stolen Sisters: The need for a comprehensive response to discrimination and violence against Indigenous women in Canada (2009)
Violence against Indigenous women and girls in Canada: A summary of Amnesty International’s concerns and call to action (2014)
Review of Reports and Recommendations on Violence Against Indigenous Women in Canada. Legal Strategy Coalition on Violence Against Indigenous Women (LSC) (February 2015).
Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Task Force. Office of Justice Programs. Minnesota Department of Public Safety.
MMIW Resource Guide. Lakota People’s Law Project. May 2, 2020.
Missing and Murdered: The Unsolved Cases of Indigenous Women and Girls. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
This project is part of CBC’s ongoing investigation into missing and murdered Indigenous women. We continue to expand our database of all unsolved cases. To search more than 250 of those cases, use the Case Explorer.
The Presidential Task Force on Missing and Murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives. Operation Lady Justice. U.S. Department of Justice.
To’ Kee Skuy’ Soo Ney-Wo-Chek’. I Will See You Again in a Good Way. Progress Report. Yurok Tribal Court and Sovereign Bodies Institute. July 2020.
This report is the result of over a year of work bringing together voices of survivors, family members of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people (MMIWG2S), tribal court staff, and researchers to fight for justice and safety for Indigenous women and youth in Northern California.
H.R. 2438: Not Invisible Act of 2020. Oct. 10, 2020.
S. 277: Savanna’s Act. Oct. 10, 2020.
New Mexico Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Relatives Task Force Report. New Mexico Indian Affairs Department. December 2020.
Academic Books, Essays, and Lectures:
Sarah Deer, Bonnie Clairmont, Carrie A. Martell, and Maureen L. White Eagle, eds. Sharing Our Stories of Survival: Native Women Surviving Violence (AltaMira Press, 2007).
Sarah Deer, The Beginning and End of Rape: Confronting Sexual Violence in Native America, 3d ed (University of Minnesota Press, 2015).
Allison Hargreaves, Violence Against Indigenous Women: Literature, Activism, Resistance (Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2017).
Kim Anderson, Maria Campbell, and Christi Belcourt, eds. Keetsahnak: Our Missing and Murdered Indigenous Sisters(University of Alberta Press, 2018)
Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. Department of Law and Justice Quarterly Lecture, Central Washington University. January 29, 2019.
Sarah Deer, “Historical Resilience: The Story of Violence Against Native Women.” Safety for Our Sisters: Ending Violence Against Native Women Symposium, Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. March 21, 2019.
Jessica McDiarmid, Highway of Tears: A True Story of Racism, Indifference, and the Pursuit of Justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. (Atria Books, 2019).
News Reports, Articles, and Videos:
Missing: The Documentary. Young Jibwe (Cameron Monkman). 2014.
Missing and Murdered, but Not Forgotten. The Agenda with Steve Palkin (current affairs program of TVOntario). September 10, 2014.
Missing and Murdered: No One Knows How Many Native Women Have Disappeared. Indian Country Today. April 11, 2016.
Quiet Killing. Kim O’Bomsawin. 2018. Quiet Killing is a story of violence, resilience, and institutional neglect that carries a vital message about Indigenous women’s right to safety and justice. The focus is on the MMIW issue in Canada.
You Probably Never Heard About These 500 Missing And Murdered Women. Huffington Post. Nov. 15, 2018.
The Missing And Murdered Indigenous Women From Across The U.S. Weekend Edition Sunday. NPR. Nov. 25, 2018.
Native America Calling’s Audio Interview “Justice for missing and murdered Indigenous women remains elusive.” Nov. 29, 2018
A new analysis finds more than 500 cases of missing or murdered women and girls in the United States since 1943. The authors of the study from the Urban Indian Health Institute say that is likely far lower than the real number. They point to poor record-keeping, bad information-sharing between local and tribal law enforcement agencies, and institutional racism as the main barriers to getting the full picture. Any legislation at the federal level to help remedy the situation remains stalled. We’ll hear recommendations from the researchers and get updates from women’s advocates about this ongoing issue.
Inadequate Data on Missing, Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. National Indian Council on Aging. January 21, 2019.
Dennis Zotigh. The REDress Project on the National Mall Draws Attention to Life and Death Situations in Indian Country. Smithsonian. March 11, 2019.
Why do so many Native American women go missing? Congress aiming to find out. CNN. April 9, 2019.
‘Sister, where did you go?’: The Native American women disappearing from US cities. The Guardian. April 30, 2019.
Debra Anne Haaland. Women are disappearing and dying in Indian country. We must act. The Guardian. May 2, 2019.
Advocates strive to raise awareness about missing and murdered Indigenous women in the US and Canada. PRI’s The World. May 8, 2019.
The Search: Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women | Fault Lines. Al Jazeera English. May 8, 2019.
Ponca Nation & Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes Take the Lead on MMIW Billboard Campaign in Oklahoma to Support “Not Invisible Act.” Native News Online.Net. May 16, 2019.
Deb Haaland announces U.S. House version of Savanna’s Act and addresses efforts for MMIW. Indian Country Today. May 18, 2019.
‘Why Are So Many of Our Girls Dying?’ Canada Grapples With Violence Against Indigenous Women. New York Times. May 30, 2019.
Are ‘man camps’ that house pipeline construction workers a menace to Indigenous women? MacLean’s. May 31, 2019.
Missing You. Joanne Shenandoah. 2019.
Silent No More documentary. May 1, 2019.
Silent No More is a documentary that seeks to expose the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women in the United States. It was filmed and edited by a 19-year-old student at Duke University who spent the summer as an intern for White Bison, Inc.
MMIWG’s findings on ‘man camps’ are a good place for government to get started. MacLean’s. June 3, 2019.
Washington state takes step landmark on missing Native American women. The Guardian. June 17, 2019.
4,000+ beads, 100’s of communities, one image for missing and murdered Indigenous women. Indian Country Today. September 2, 2019.
Running for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. Rosalie Fish Ted Talk. October 2019.
Rosalie Fish is an 18-year-old member of the Cowlitz Tribe and a competitive runner from the Muckleshoot Reservation in Auburn, Washington. She graduated from the Muckleshoot Tribal School, where she represented her school in the Class 1B Washington State Track Meet, earned three gold medals, a silver and a sportsmanship award, and used that platform to raise awareness for missing and murdered indigenous women (MMIW). Recruited for her running ability and proven leadership, Rosalie will attend Iowa Central Community College in the fall where she will continue her athletic career and her activism for MMIW.
No answers 2 years after student vanishes — a case in epidemic in Native communities. ABC News. October 9, 2019.
Video report: A broken trust: sexual assault and justice on tribal lands. Indian Country Today. October 10, 2019.
The Connection Between Pipelines and Sexual Violence. The New Republic. Oct. 15, 2019
Trump establishes ‘Operation Lady Justice’ task force. Indian Country Today. Nov. 26, 2019.
Attorney general unveils plan on missing Native Americans. Cherokee Phoenix (Associated Press story). Nov. 30, 2019.
‘Nobody saw me’: why are so many Native American women and girls trafficked? The Guardian. Dec. 18, 2019.
Somebody’s Daughter. Directed by Rain; Executive Producer: Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana. 2020.
Somebody’s Daughter focuses on some of the higher-profile MMIW cases, some of which were raised during the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs MMIW/MMIP hearing in December 2018. With historical points of reference, the victims’ and their families’ stories are told through the lens of the legal jurisdictional maze and socio-economic bondage that constricts Indian Country. For the first time on film, tribal leaders reveal the devastating roles of drug cartels and gangs in the MMIW crisis and the purpose of Somebody’s Daughter is to alert lawmakers and the public alike that the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women crisis exists and demands urgent action.
A well of grief: the relatives of murdered Native women speak out. The Guardian. Jan. 13, 2020.
Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women groups hold meeting to create state board. KSWO ABC 7 News (Lawton, OK). Jan. 19, 2020.
Tribal and state patrol officials issue reports on missing and murdered indigenous women. Washington State Wire. Jan. 30, 2020.
‘I gotta stay strong’: the Native American families with a legacy of violent deaths. The Guardian. Feb. 25, 2020.
Addressing the Epidemic of Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Cultural Survival. Mar. 6, 2020.
NIWRC Releases Statement on 2020 National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls. National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center. May 5, 2020.
Native women confront missing and murdered task force over Trump’s role in crisis. Indianz.com. June 3, 2020.
Tribal Transportation Planning and Pedestrian Safety. Webinar sponsored by America Walks. June 23, 2020.
Titled Tribal Transportation Planning and Pedestrian Safety, this first webinar will ask why pedestrian fatalities are so prevalent in tribal communities. American Indians and Alaska Natives are much more likely to be killed while walking than any other racial or ethnic group with a recorded pedestrian death rate almost five times the national average. And these shocking statistics probably understate the true disparity because of a fragmented reporting system.This webinar will also provide important background information for the second webinar in the Walking Towards Justice in Indian Country series on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, which is scheduled for August.
Walking Towards Justice in Indian Country: Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (Part 2). Webinar sponsored by America Walks. Aug. 12, 2020.
Webinar participants will learn how the dark history of colonialization, complex jurisdictional issues, and racialized indifference have created the circumstances in which these crimes are regularly perpetrated and rarely prosecuted. Panelists will include civil rights advocates, practitioners, and researchers, as well as U.S. Congresswoman Deb Haaland (NM-1), who introduced federal legislation last year to address this “silent crisis,” and author Jessica McDiarmid, who documented numerous personal stories in her book, “Highway of Tears.”
Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. Here & Now. PBS Wisconsin. July 1, 2020.
Kozee Decorah, a 22-year-old Ho-Chunk woman was found murdered in May before she could make it home to Wisconsin. Lead organizer for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Kristen Welch joins us today to talk about the disproportionately high rates of violence against Indigenous women and the need to address it in Wisconsin.
120-year survey finds 1 in 5 of state’s cases of missing, murdered Indigenous women in Humboldt County. Times-Standard (Eureka, CA). Aug. 23, 2020.
The Search For Missing And Murdered Indigenous Women. NPR. Aug. 25, 2020.
Trump Administration Opens Operation Lady Justice Task Force Cold Case Office in Anchorage, Alaska. Aug. 26, 2020. U.S. Department of the Interior Indian Affairs.
Indigenous women are preyed on at horrifying rates. I was one of them. The Guardian. Sept. 7, 2020.
Savanna’s Act Addresses Alarming Number Of Missing Or Killed Native Women. NPR. Sept. 28, 2020.
“Boontak! (Stop it!): Stolen Daughters of Turtle Island”. Exhibition at the Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture & Lifeways. Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan. Sept. 25, 2020-May 5, 2021.
Portrait Project Memorializes Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. Smithsonian Magazine. Oct. 6, 2020.
Savanna’s Act and the Not Invisible Act Signed into Law. Indian Law Resource Center. Oct. 10, 2020.
State, federal government take major steps to study missing and murdered Indigenous women. Green Bay Press-Gazette. Oct. 16, 2020.
7Gen Live: MMIW with SunRose Iron Shell. Sicangu Community Development Corporation. Oct. 19, 2020.
Addressing the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women in Alaska. Alaska Public Media. Oct. 30, 2020.
Alaska has some of the highest rates in the country of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. After years of organizing around the issue, advocates are seeing more attention and resources brought to bear. We talk with some of those organizers, as well as the head of a new federal office tasked with addressing the crisis.
Seeding Sovereignty. #MMIW: Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. Sicangu Community Development Corporation. Nov. 12, 2020.
New Mexico Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Relatives Task Force Releases Final Report and Recommendations. Tewa Women United. Dec. 11, 2020.
Outstanding Indigenous Woman: Meet Annita Lucchesi, founder of Sovereign Bodies Institute. Great Falls (MT) Tribune. Dec. 14, 2020.
Report: Indigenous women and girls face violence epidemic. Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN). Dec. 15, 2020.
“Indigenous women and girls face an epidemic of violence and are far more likely than other groups in Minnesota to be murdered or to go missing, according to new state research.”
Blackfeet Boxing: Not Invisible. Webinar addressing the ESPN film and sponsored by Big Sky Film Institute. Dec. 21, 2020.
The Biden administration must help missing and murdered Indigenous women. Indian Country Today. Dec. 31, 2020.
Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. Billings Gazette. Page contains links to articles related to MMIW.
Category: Missing and Murdered. KBJR6. Duluth, MN. Page contains stories related to MMIW.
Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. Yellowstone Public Radio. Page contains stories related to MMIW.
Fashion designer Leslie Hampton apologizes for triggering MMIWG families. APTN News. Feb. 24, 2021.
Mapping for Social Change: Decolonial and Anti-Oppression Mapping: Annita Lucchesi. Digital Storytelling Colloquium at the Institute for Digital Research in the Humanities, University of Kansas, March 25, 2021.
Topic: MMIWG. APTN News. Page contains stories related to MMIWG.
Based in Winnipeg and describing itself as “The First National Indigenous Broadcaster in the World,” APTN “has served Indigenous Peoples in Canada as well as Canadian audiences, for over two decades. Steadfastly adhering to its mission: “to share our Peoples’ journey, celebrate our cultures, inspire our children and honour the wisdom of our Elders.””
Policy Sector: Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and Ending Violence. Assembly of First Nations. Page contains information related to MMIWG.
Annita Lucchesi, Executive Director, Sovereign Bodies Institute.
It Starts With Us (Canada)
StrongHearts Native Helpline (look under Resources)
Facebook group pages:
- MMIR TX-ReMatriate
- MMIW-OK-Southwest Chapter
- Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women USA
- Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women of Oklahoma Southeast Chapter
- Save Our Sisters, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women
- Missing Flowers: Missing Murdered Indigenous Women & Men
- Approximately 75 percent of the crimes the FBI investigates in Indian Country fall under the following priority violations:
- Death investigations
- Physical abuse of a child
- Sexual abuse of a child
- Violent felony assaults
- National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women, Girls, and Two-Spirit People
On May 5, 2018, we observed the Senate-designated National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls. This observance shines a light on the high rates of homicides of American Indian and Alaska Native women, as well as other forms of violence, including sex trafficking, domestic violence, and sexual assault, affecting Native communities throughout the United States.
According to the FBI, approximately 75 percent of the crimes investigated in Indian Country involve homicide, rape, violent assaults, or child abuse. We know from visiting with Native communities across the country and working with Tribal law enforcement that lethal crimes of domestic and sexual violence and trafficking are interrelated. This reinforces the critical need for sustained support for victim services, as well as aggressive efforts to hold offenders accountable before the violence escalates.
Native advocates and Tribal leaders tell us that an important dimension of the disappearance of women and girls in their communities is their vulnerability to human trafficking.
May 5th as a National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls.
A congressional resolution to designate May 5th as a National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls has been introduced. The resolution was drafted in memory of Hanna Harris (Northern Cheyenne) who was murdered in July 2013. The resolution was first introduced in April 2016 on the same day that RoyLynn Rides Horse (Crow) passed away after having been beaten, burned, and left in a field to die. Nearly 200 tribal, national, and state organizations supported this resolution.
Ideas on how to participate and raise awareness:
1) Wear RED on May 5th and post a photo on social media with the hashtag #NationalDayofAwareness #MMNWG or #MMIW
2) Host a community event in your community on May 5th
3) Host a prayer circle or candlelight vigil on May 5th
4) Post a list of names of sisters missing or murdered from your community
In 2005, the movement for the safety of Native women led the struggle to include under the Violence Against Women Act a separate title for Native women called Safety for Indian Women. One of the findings of this title was that during the period of 1979 through 1992, homicide was the third-leading cause of death of Indian females aged 15 to 34, and 75 percent were killed by family members or acquaintances. Since that time, a study by the U.S. Department of Justice has found that in some tribal communities, American Indian women face murder rates that are more than 10 times the national average. Over the last decade awareness of this national issue has increased but more must be done at all levels to stop the disappearances and save lives. To address an issue it must first be acknowledged. Please join us on May 5th as we honor missing and murdered Indigenous women and together increase our national awareness.
TCU is happy to announce that the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s Scholarship is now accepting applications for the 2021-21 academic year. Any TCU undergraduate student can apply and the recipient will receive an award of up to $5000 for the 2021-22 academic year. The application deadline is June 1, 2021. The application can be downloaded from the Special Eligibility Scholarships portion of TCU’s Scholarships & Financial Aid webpage or using the link via Horned Frog Scholar Search: Applications must be submitted through the TCU Financial Aid portal in PDF format.
Given that Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people of the United States and Canada suffer from disproportionately and overwhelmingly high rates of violence, the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s Scholarship seeks to honor missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people and raise awareness about this issue, educate future leaders who will address this and other Native American issues, and provide financial support to undergraduate students at Texas Christian University who demonstrate commitment to these issues.
Please help us make students aware of this scholarship by distributing the announcement and application links.
2020-2021 Award Winners: Haylee Chiariello and Angel Guyton
Angel Guyton is a TCU senior from Arlington, Texas, and she is majoring in Combine Science with an emphasis on Biology and Chemistry as well as minoring in Cultural Awareness And Health and Health Care. On campus, Angel is a member of the Native and Indigenous Student Association, Frog Shadow, Zeta Tau Alpha, Doctors Without Borders, Alpha Epsilon Delta, SACNAS, Chemistry Club, Tennis Club, and the Women’s Basketball Club.
Haylee Chiariello’s image and bio are forthcoming.
2019-2020 Award Winner: Angel Guyton
The 5th Annual Native American and Indigenous Peoples Day (NAIPD) Symposium, October 4, 2021, will be dedicated to the theme “Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirit People: From Action to Awareness.” The keynote address will be delivered by Annita Luchessi. Annita Lucchesi is Executive Director of Sovereign Bodies Institute, a research institute dedicated to community-engaged research on gender and sexual violence against Indigenous people. Sovereign Bodies Institute (SBI) builds on Indigenous traditions of data gathering and knowledge transfer to create, disseminate, and put into action research on gender and sexual violence against Indigenous people.
By Dr. Scott Langston, Department of Religion
Extent of the Issue
More than four in five American Indian and Alaska Native women (84.3%) have experienced violence in their lifetime, and more than one in three (39.8%) experienced violence in 2015. (National Institute of Justice 2016 Study) University of Kansas Professor Sarah Deer says the rate of Native women who have experienced sexual violence is higher—one in two (56%). (March 2019 lecture, “Historical Resilience”)
56.1% of women experienced sexual violence, 55.5% experienced physical violence by an intimate partner, 48.8% experienced stalking, and 66.4% experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner. (National Institute of Justice 2016 Study)
American Indian and Alaska Native women are 1.2 times as likely as non-Hispanic white-only women to have experienced violence in their lifetime and 1.7 times as likely to have experienced violence in the past year. (National Institute of Justice 2016 Study)
Of those American Indian and Alaska Natives who have experienced violence, 97% of females have been victimized by at least one non-Native perpetrator (interracial) in their lifetime, while 35% of females have been victimized by an American Indian or Alaska Native perpetrator (intraracial) (National Institute of Justice 2016 Study)
71% of American Indian/Alaska Natives live in urban areas. 50.2% of the urban population identified as female. Urban American Indian and Alaska Native people experience MMIWG2S-related violence in two ways—through losses experienced by extended family and community ties on reservations, in villages, and in urban communities themselves. (Urban Indian Health Institute 2018 study)
Approximately 75 percent of the crimes the FBI investigates in Indian Country fall under the following priority violations: Death investigations; Physical abuse of a child; Sexual abuse of a child; Violent felony assaults; and Rape. (FBI website)
The rate of Native adults who have experienced post-traumatic stress syndrome is 4 ½ times greater than the national average. (Sarah Deer, March 2019 lecture, “Historical Resilience”)
Traditionally, violence against women was not tolerated in Indigenous societies. Tribal governments had strict laws against hurting family members, particularly women and children. Many tribes were matrilineal where women were centers of the family and government. (Sarah Deer, March 2019 lecture, “Historical Resilience”)
From the time of first contact with Europeans, Native women have been victims of sexual violence. “Native women and girls have been disappearing since 1492, when Europeans kidnapped Native people for shipment back to Europe.” (Sarah Deer, 2019 testimony before the U.S. House subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples of the United States)
Due to removal and land loss, many Native victims of violence do not have access to the comfort that comes through traditional spiritualities. Native children were sexually assaulted in boarding schools (1880s-1970s). Contemporary sex-trafficking of Native women really began during the 1950s and 1960s when the federal government forced urban migration (Relocation) and termination of tribes. This trafficking continues today at places such as man-camps (i.e., short-term housing needed to house thousands of pipeline and oil workers), where very little policing goes on. (Sarah Deer, March 2019 lecture, “Historical Resilience”)
Native peoples, however, are resilient and have endured and are responding to this and other issues. The MMIW2GS movement and organizations such as Sovereign Bodies Institute and MMIR TX-ReMatriate reflect this strength.
“Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirit People” refers to a social movement originating among First Nations activists in Canada working to raise awareness of the high rates of violence Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people experience in the United States and Canada.
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) of 1994 was extremely important legislation for protecting female victims of violence in general, and even more important for American Indian and Alaska Native women. VAWA 1994, along with its subsequent revisions, has explicitly set aside funds to combat and respond to violence against American Indian and Alaska Native women. (2008 report, Violence Against American Indian and Alaska Native Women and the Criminal Justice Response)
May 5th is the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women, Girls, and Two-Spirit People.
Challenges & Needs
Valid and reliable data on violence against American Indian and Alaska Native women are essential in formulating policies likely to prevent this violence and to respond effectively. (2008, Violence Against American Indian and Alaska Native Women and the Criminal Justice Response)
Even the most conservative estimates indicate that violence is an extremely serious problem in many American Indian and Alaska Native communities. The limited resources that are available would be better invested in developing interventions and prevention programs, scientifically evaluating their effectiveness for protecting American Indian and Alaska Native women, and making sure all female victims of violence have safe havens in the meantime. (2008, Violence Against American Indian and Alaska Native Women and the Criminal Justice Response)
Poor record-keeping, bad information-sharing between local and tribal law enforcement agencies, and institutional racism are the main barriers to fully understanding the issue. Though there are critical issues regarding jurisdiction of MMIWG2S cases on reservation and village lands, lack of prosecution, lack of proper data collection, prejudice, and institutional racism are factors that also occur in urban areas. A deeply flawed institutional system rooted in colonial relationships that marginalize and disenfranchise people of color and remains complicit in violence targeting American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls also contributes to the problem. (Urban Indian Health Institute 2018 study)
The vast majority of media coverage on MMIWG2S, both on individual cases and on the issue overall, was centered on reservation-based violence. Though coverage of reservation-based violence is critical, this bias does work to collectively minimize this issue in urban spaces. It also bolsters stereotypes of American Indian and Alaska Native people as solely living on reservations or in rural areas, perpetuates perceptions of tribal lands as violence-ridden environments, and, ultimately, is representative of an institutional bias of media coverage on this issue. Additionally, media sources have used language that could be perceived as violent and victim-blaming in their coverage of MMIWG2S cases. This type of coverage can also perpetuate negative stereotypes of American Indian and Alaska Native women, girls, and two-spirit people. (Urban Indian Health Institute 2018 study)
Many of the reasons commonly attributed to root causes of MMIWG2S in the media and popular narrative—sex work and domestic violence, for example—are forms of violence that were not prominent in the cases UIHI found, and the geography of this data does not match an assumed perception on where MMIWG2S cases are more likely to occur. These narratives stress areas like Montana and North Dakota while minimizing the issue in places like California and Alaska. This study shows these neglected areas need to be at the forefront of the dialogue rather than almost entirely absent from it. Overall, there is a need for more sustained and in-depth research on how and why urban American Indian and Alaska Native women, girls, and two-spirit people go missing and are killed and enforceable data collection practices for local, state, and federal agencies. (Urban Indian Health Institute 2018 study)
Any policy addressing MMIWG2S that does not account for the violence urban Native communities experience will not adequately address the issue. This includes the currently proposed Savanna’s Act, a federal bill aimed at collecting data on new MMIWG2S cases. Though it is named after Savanna LaFontaine Greywind, who was murdered in Fargo, North Dakota (one of the cities included in this survey), presently, it solely asks federal law enforcement to track and report data. Because cases occurring in urban areas are not federal jurisdiction, this means missing and murdered urban Native women, girls, and two-spirit people, including Savanna herself, would not be included in the data the bill aims to collect. Gaps such as these allow the violence urban Native women, girls, and two-spirit people experience to continue. (Urban Indian Health Institute 2018 study)
Continued research on racial and gender bias in police forces regarding how MMIWG2S cases are handled needs to occur. (Urban Indian Health Institute 2018 study)