MISSING AND MURDERED INDIGENOUS WOMEN
September 23, 2021
Each year, for over 500 years, the number of missing, murdered and sexually assaulted Indigenous women and girls quickly increases and shows no sign of slowing any time soon. In the year 2019 alone, 5,600 Indigenous women went missing. The likeliness of you knowing this statistic is slim to none. Why? This is a question you’re likely asking, and understandably so, as it truly is shocking to know that thousands of women are missing, yet hardly anyone does. The primary reason for your lack of knowledge about this is that the news covers almost nothing about these women’s stories or the brutal attacks and murders that occurred purely because they were Indigenous. Violent crimes against Indigenous women rage across the United States and Canada as a silent pandemic of their own.
The murders of Indigenous women happen in many vile and cruel ways, and most of the women have yet to be found. According to BBC news, eighteen-year-old male Brayden Bushby threw a trailer hitch out of his moving car and hit Indigenous woman Barbra Ketner, who was walking with her sister, in the stomach. After murdering Ketner and permanently traumatizing her sister, Bushby did not receive a sentence until three years after the attack. While on trial, he admitted to the murder, pleaded guilty, and trial evidence claimed Bushby said “Got one,” after hitting her. He was only sentenced to manslaughter, receiving a puny sentence of eight to twelve years. However, if he would have received the deserved murder charges, he would be serving a much harsher and longer sentence, maybe even life, in prison. Even though “native women are killed at a rate 10 times higher than the national average,” and Bushby gloated with the phrase “got one” after hitting Ketner with the trailer hitch, he claimed to have not been targeting Indigenous women (L.A. Times).
Even with hashtags like #MMIW, which stands for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, and organizations like Sovereign Bodies Institute and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women United States of America (MMIW U.S.A) that strive to educate people on the abundance of missing Indigenous women, nothing is truly being done to address this issue. This crisis is widespread across both the United States and Canada, and newspapers across both countries make this problem seem like it is in the process of being solved. Articles mentioning the “major steps” the government is taking to find these women contain only partially true information, yet nearly nothing is being done for these missing Indigenous women and their families. While laws like Savanna’s Act, a law that is designed to form guidelines between the local police and tribes in hopes of finding these women, are a step in the right direction, much more serious action needs to be taken.
Without police taking these hate crimes seriously, they continue to spread. Fortunately, there are groups like the aforementioned that exist. However, it is unfortunate that there is even a need for them to exist at all. MMIW U.S.A provides courses in self-defense and other information and resources for Indigenous families and Indigenous women. While all of this information is extremely important, especially in a community that is constantly under attack, the Indigenous people are the not ones who need to make changes. Every group of people, no matter their race, religion, sex, or age, need to take a stand and to stand hand in hand with the Indigenous community and protect them as much as they can.
The tribes that these women belong to, along with other members of the Indigenous community, are the only ones who are fighting for justice and for their loved ones to be found. Powerful displays like a red hand which is painted across their mouth scream powerful messages of the violence these women endured. This also demonstrates how the one behind the red handprint sees them and stands with them and will not stay silent in an attempt to get justice for these victims. Aside from movements like the red hand, phrases like “no more stolen sisters” are plastered on bumper stickers, t-shirts, phone cases, mugs, and all across the country in different ways, including social media. This phrase is used to represent all of the lives that have been stolen: all of the great grandmothers, grandmothers, mothers, daughters, aunts, cousins, and sisters who had their lives ripped from them because of their heritage.
To put this into perspective, my aunt, Tina Pawis, is a member of a tribe named Ojibway, from Shawanaga First Nation. Growing up, she lived on a reservation with her father. If she had not moved off of said reservation, she likely would have been targeted or even killed for her heritage. While living on a reservation makes it a little easier for violent people to target them, there is always a chance for things to happen at her home, the store, or even taking a walk. She is not a violent person, she lives a family-oriented and hardworking life, and she is proud to be an Indigenous woman. There would have never been any reason for her to get targeted, yet “more than four in five American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced violence,” leaving her chances, and that of other unproblematic Indigenous women, of being the target of a hate crime high.
When you think about all of the horrible things that happen to these Indigenous women, the question of “Well what can I even do?” comes up. There are several things that someone can do to help save the lives of future generations of Indigenous women to come. The first important thing is to stand up against any discrimination or hate speech that you hear. Ending the nasty stigma around Indigenous people, not only Indigenous women, is crucial to ending the hate crimes against them. Aside from the verbal aspect of helping, there is a monetary aspect as well. Donating to foundations like the Association on America Indian Affairs, which help try and preserve as much of the native culture as possible and protect the Indigenous youth, or the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, which provides materials educating about the violence against Indigenous women and that also “offers technology, forensic services, and investigative support” to help identify the women who are found (NIWRC).
Keeping all of these resources in mind, and knowing what needs to be done, make sure to do your part in making sure that there are no more lives taken for prejudice reasons. Everything that you are capable of doing needs to be done. Keep the Indigenous women and communities safe. For more resources and information on the above foundations as well as others, visit the links below.