Responding to the Crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls
During the April meeting of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (PFII) Terri Henry, a member of the Permanent Forum, intervened on the issue of addressing missing and murdered Native women and girls. Ms. Henry called upon the PFII to acknowledge the May 5, 2018, National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and for PFII members to wear red on the day. Her remarks are reprinted in full below.
Indian nations within the United States have struggled to protect indigenous women over several hundred years. The devastating legacy of the Indian wars, colonization, the boarding school era, policy of forced sterilization, and so many other laws and policies of the United States is the contemporary levels of violence committed against Native women. Today, indigenous women of the United States suffer levels of violence greater than any other population of women.
This violence occurs on a spectrum from birth to death, touching every Indian nation. One of the most unconscionable aspects of this pattern of violence is how Native women die, how Native women go missing, disappear, and are murdered. During the period of 1979 through 1992, homicide was the third leading cause of death of Indian females aged 15 to 34 including natural causes and accidents. 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. We also know that Native women often “go missing” and are never found; they become the growing number of the “disappeared.”
A large percentage of the missing and murdered Native women and girls are the result of domestic violence, sexual assault, trafficking, and the unregulated presence of transient workers of the “extractive industries” such as man camps of the oil industry in North Dakota. This reality is well documented and increasingly in the public spotlight as demonstrated by the recent release of the movie Wind River, directed by Taylor Sheridan and produced by the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana.
Today, I share with you these shawls that were a gift from a much-loved Sicangu woman, Tillie Black Bear from the Rosebud Sioux Indian Nation, who we consider the grandmother of the movement for safety of Native women in the United States. These shawls represent Native women who have lost their lives to violence and also those yet unborn who we pray will live free of violence. Tillie Black Bear understood that while our movement was organizing and winning historic changes Native, women needed our immediate help.
Tillie would say, “The women cannot wait for the system to change.”
Tillie would ask, “What about the women? How will this help the women?”
Over the last decade, awareness of missing and murdered Native women and girls has increased, but more must be done at all levels to stop these disappearances and murders, and to save lives. Tillie was correct—Native women cannot wait for the system to be reformed.
In the United States, our movement organized to support a resolution passed by the U.S. Senate recognizing May 5, 2017, as a National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls.
The resolution was in response to the death of a Native woman, Hanna Harris, at the Northern Cheyenne Reservation and other murders in Montana. Hanna was 21 years old when she went missing on July 4, 2013. Due to the inadequate response of the justice system, as in so many cases, her family and friends conducted the search for Hanna. The Congressional Delegation from the state led the way for passage of a Senate resolution declaring May 5, 2017, the birthday of Hanna Harris, as a National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls.
A National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls will help shed light on the countless tragedies involving our indigenous women in the United States. The National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center is calling upon all those concerned for the safety of Native women to organize at the local, tribal, state, national, and international levels to:
- Support a 2018 National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls;
- Wear red on May 5, 2018; and,
- Organize awareness actions across communities and on social media using #MMIW #MMIWG #NationalDayofAwareness #NIWRC
As of today, 186 tribal, state, and national organizations have joined NIWRC in support of this resolution. On this May 5th, Hanna’s mother is organizing a walk for justice for missing and murdered Native women and girls. Such walks for justice are being organized across tribal communities.
We as conscious human beings, I as a member of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, understanding this human rights crisis, cannot just observe as indigenous women of the United States go missing and are murdered. Today, I call upon the Permanent Forum to support increasing public awareness of the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls by:
- Recognizing May 5, 2018, in the United States as the National Day of Awareness of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
- Issuing a statement to encourage the United States to address the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women.
- For members of the PFII to join with indigenous women and Indian Nations of the United States and wear red on May 5, 2018.