Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women
In collaboration with the Native American and Indigenous Studies Working Group and in solidarity with MMIW-Texas, Women & Gender Studies is helping to raise awareness on the topic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. From the Native American & Indigenous Studies Working Group:
Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) refers to a social movement originating among First Nations activists in Canada working to raise awareness of the high rates of violence Indigenous women 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 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 MMIW. We acknowledge the sacredness of all Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and understand that this is not merely a topic of study and research. The data collected on MMIW, 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 MMIW 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 MMIW 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 MMIW or are considering incorporating the topic/movement into one of your classes, here are some resources to consult:
MMIW 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. https://www.amnestyusa.org/reports/maze-of-injustice/
Violence Against American Indian and Alaska Native Women and the Criminal Justice Response: What is Known. 2008.https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/223691.pdf
The Violence Against Women Act – Title IX: Safety for Indian Women. Tribal Court Clearinghouse. http://tribal-institute.org/lists/vawa_2013.htm
Title IX—Safety for Indian Women. Section 901. Findings. VAWA 2005 Re-authorization H.R. 3171, 109th Congress, 2005-2006. http://tribal-institute.org/download/Drug%20Court/Title-IX-VAWA-2005.pdf
“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. http://www.ncai.org/attachments/PolicyPaper.pdf
Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Reauthorization 2013. U.S. Department of Justice. https://www.justice.gov/tribal/violence-against-women-act-vawa-reauthorization-2013-0
A Roadmap for Making Native America Safer. Report to the President & Congress of the United States. November 2013. Indian Law & Order Commission. https://www.aisc.ucla.edu/iloc/report/files/A_Roadmap_For_Making_Native_America_Safer-Full.pdf
Violence Against American Indian and Alaska Native Women and Men. National Institute of Justice. NIJ Journal No. 277. June 2016. https://nij.gov/journals/277/Pages/violence-against-american-indians-alaska-natives.aspx
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. https://naturalresources.house.gov/hearings/unmasking-the-hidden-crisis-of-murdered-and-missing-indigenous-women-mmiw-exploring-solutions-to-end-the-cycle-of-violence
Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. (Canada; 2019). https://www.mmiwg-ffada.ca/
No More Stolen Sisters. Amnesty International. https://www.amnesty.ca/our-work/campaigns/no-more-stolen-sisters. Includes the following reports:
Review of Reports and Recommendations on Violence Against Indigenous Women in Canada. Legal Strategy Coalition on Violence Against Indigenous Women (LSC) (February 2015). https://www.leaf.ca/legal/legal-strategy-coalition-on-violence-against-indigenous-women-lsc/
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. https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=missing+and+murdered+indigenous+women+texas
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. https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=sarah+deer+missing+and+murdered+indigenous+women
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. https://newsmaven.io/indiancountrytoday/archive/missing-and-murdered
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. Focus is on the MMIW issue in Canada. https://www.viff.org/Online
You Probably Never Heard About These 500 Missing And Murdered Women. Huffington Post. Nov. 15, 2018. https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/missing-murdered-native-women
The Missing And Murdered Indigenous Women From Across The U.S.
Weekend Edition Sunday. NPR. Nov. 25, 2018. https://www.npr.org/the-missing-and-murdered-indigenous-women-from-across-the-u-s
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. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/blogs/national-museum-american-indian/2019/03/12/redress-project/
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. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/apr/30/missing-native-american-women-alyssa-mclemore
Debra Anne Haaland. Women are disappearing and dying in Indian country. We must act. The Guardian. May 2, 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/may/02/missing-murdered-indigenous-women-deb-haaland
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. https://newsmaven.io/indiancountrytoday/news/deb-haaland-announces-u-s-house-version-of-savanna-s-act
‘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. https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=joanne+shenandoah&view
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.
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
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.
A well of grief: the relatives of murdered Native women speak out. The Guardian. Jan. 13, 2020.
Annita Lucchesi, Executive Director, Sovereign Bodies Institute. https://www.annitalucchesi.com/
Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women. https://www.csvanw.org/mmiw/
It Starts With Us (Canada) http://itstartswithus-mmiw.com/
Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, Queer and Trans People Bead Project (EVERY ONE)
National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center http://www.niwrc.org/
National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls (Canada) http://www.mmiwg-ffada.ca/
Native Women’s Association of Canada
The REDressProject http://www.theredressproject.org/
Sing Our Rivers Red https://singourriversred.wordpress.com/
Sovereign Bodies Institute https://www.sovereign-bodies.org/
StrongHearts Native Helpline (look under Resources) http://www.strongheartshelpline.org/resources/
Facebook group pages:
- MMIW Texas
- 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: (https://www.fbi.gov/investigate/violent-crime/indian-country-crime#Statistics)
- 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 and Girls
On May 5, 2018 we will observe 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 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,
This Saturday, to help raise awareness, you can participate by taking a photo of yourself, (or senator) holding the included #NotInvisible hashtag sign or a plain sheet of paper with #NotInvisible typed out as in the examples below. If a selfie is not possible, you can also choose to include one of the attached graphics to share statistics about this crisis to help raise awareness about this issue.
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 2020-21 academic year. Any TCU undergraduate student can apply and the recipient will receive an award of up to $5000 for the 2020-21 academic year. Application deadline is Aug. 1, 2020. The application can be downloaded from the Special Eligibility Scholarships portion of TCU’s Scholarships & Financial Aid webpage or here: 20-21 MMIW Scholarship App. Applications must be submitted through the TCU Financial Aid portal in PDF format.
Given that Indigenous women 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, 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.
2019-2020 Award Winner: Angel Guyton
The 5th Annual Native American and Indigenous Peoples Day (NAIPD) Symposium, October 5, 2020, will be dedicated to the topic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. 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 MMIWG-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 MMIW movement and organizations such as Sovereign Bodies Institute and MMIW-Texas reflect this strength.
“Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women” refers to a social movement originating among First Nations activists in Canada working to raise awareness of the high rates of violence Indigenous women 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, have 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 National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls.
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 MMIWG 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 MMIWG, 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 MMIWG cases. This type of coverage can also perpetuate negative stereotypes of American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls. (Urban Indian Health Institute 2018 study)
Many of the reasons commonly attributed to root causes of MMIWG 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 MMIWG 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 and girls 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 MMIWG 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 MMIWG 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 and girls, 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 and girls experience to continue. (Urban Indian Health Institute 2018 study)
Continued research on racial and gender bias in police forces regarding how MMIWG cases are handled needs to occur. (Urban Indian Health Institute 2018 study)