Trigger Warning: Mentions of violence, sexual assault, rape
Indigenous people have faced injustice after injustice by dominating colonizing forces, and the effects of this mass violence are still present today. In the US, Canada, Mexico, and many other parts of the world, Indigenous and First Nations women are often the victims of disproportionate amounts of murder, sexual assault/rape, and abuse. The Canadian police have estimated that although Indigenous women are only 4% of the female population in Canada, they make up 25% of the female murder victims. This does not even cover all of the victims, however, because there are others that have not been found, and some that cannot be identified in different cities’ databases. According to the police department in Fargo, women whose races were not identified were just put down as “white” and some were marked as Indian (as in India) in other cities. Instead of tracking tribal interactions and affiliations, police departments in both the US and Canada have not looked into it, which makes it more unclear for what reason the victims were taken or killed.
While the predicament for Indigenous women is very grave, there are people standing up to the injustices against them. Here is a list of organizations and activists who are bringing the needs of Indigenous women to light, and ensuring that their struggles and the heinous crimes towards them are not swept under the rug.
NIWRC: National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center
The National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center is a nonprofit organization that is specifically designed to assist and advocate for Indigenous women, especially in situations of domestic violence. Also, they “seek to enhance the capacity of American Indian and Alaska Native (Native) tribes, Native Hawaiians, and Tribal and Native Hawaiian organizations to respond to domestic violence.” The group brings awareness to issues plaguing Indigenous women, fights violence against women, and creates various programming, events, and online resources to be used by individuals, companies, and other groups that may want to help in the fight.
Cheryl Maloney is an activist who has been fighting for Indigenous Canadians before and since the situation became more serious to the Canadian government in 2009. Though she has stepped down from her position as the president of the Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association, while employed there, she demanded action from the government to more thoroughly investigate these matters in a culturally sensitive manner. She knew that families who experienced the tragedies of murder would be hesitant to come forward and provide information for the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s Inquiry, so she backed the proposition for three community outreach workers to be funded in order to sensitively and tenderly handle such a delicate issue. That way, the inquiry could more effectively fulfill its purpose of exposing the systemic reasons behind the murder and disappearance of disproportionately high numbers of Indigenous women. Maloney continues her activism in recent years and today, like when she demanded that it became easier to sue for damages or crimes against Indigenous women, as these cases tend to be disregarded. While fighting for especially women, Maloney is a warrior for many Indigenous Canadians.
A lawyer, professor of law at William Mitchell College in Minnesota, and a former professor of Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies at the University of Kansas, Sarah Deer has focused her work on ending injustices and violence against Indigenous women. She has received many accolades for her work, and she has written textbooks on tribal law and a book called The Beginning and End of Rape: Confronting Sexual Violence in Native America. Her book deals with the ideas of what justice means, the issues present in our notions of justice, and how to work towards solutions to these issues when addressed beyond hypotheticals. Instead of opening her own private law practice, Deer aims to decolonize the legal system by constantly demanding federal law reform for Native peoples. Additionally, she advocates for Native women who have experienced sexual trauma and aids in their courtroom proceedings. As they may come to not trust federal, state, or even tribal systems of law, Deer strives for better for them. One in three Native women are raped or sexually assaulted, and if it is a non-Native assailant there generally tends to be no consequences. Ultimately, she aims to both decolonize the federal legal system and innovate the tribal system so that it becomes more conducive to the good treatment of the victims. By giving more authority and legitimacy to tribal law, it may create a better healing environment for these women.
Rebecca Benson is a trans woman and also identifies as two-spirit, a third gender common amongst native peoples. She is an advocate for Indigenous Canadians, and has brought to light many of the issues plaguing the communities. Instead of celebrating Canada, she has made clear the damage that colonization has done to Indigenous communities, leaving them with the brunt of the poverty and issues in the nation. In regards to the 1,400+ missing women, Benson focuses on its impact on the trans community. She emphasizes that oftentimes, trans women’s deaths are not correctly reported correctly, and they are also often not reported at all. The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s Inquiry around the murders has been in place since 2009, and people still demand answers. While she agrees that the inquiry around Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women is vital to the amelioration of the issue, she also recognizes the flaw of the inquiry, being that two-spirit folks and other trans people are completely not even acknowledged. By being more inclusionary, it more accurately reflects the population of the Indigenous Canadian communities. As trans women of color are already at a high risk to be murdered in relation to their cis, white counterparts, Benson’s work highlights a typically unmentioned part of a very important issue.
Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women USA
This organization’s main goal is to bring missing Indigenous women home, tackling the crisis on both sides of the US and Canadian border. They post descriptions, pictures, and names of missing people on Facebook in the hopes that there will be some possibility of someone knowing where they are. They fundraise through demonstrative activism, like when they passed around a red purse on a livestream and discussed stories of governmental neglect and systematic disregard by the government. The profits have all gone directly to affected families. Additionally, the group puts on programming like “Staying Sacred,” in which speakers talk about preventing sexual violence, self-defense, and cultural pride. On their website, they post women they are actively searching for, facts and news (which is still in development), and on their Facebook they continue to post new events.
Indigenous women are being kidnapped, murdered, and subsequently silenced at alarming rates. The legal prosecution of violence against them is tricky, leading to lack of authority in the past for both tribal and federal governments. A non-Native man even called the sheriff and told them he was abusing his wife, and the sheriff was powerless to do anything. In both the United States and Canada, Indigenous women are disproportionately affected by violence, and most of the perpetrators of their sexual assault and murder are non-Native. In order to bring justice to these women and families, supporting Native organizations is a must. Cultural sensitivity is imperative when the situation is this delicate. If you are able, please try and donate to these organizations, or volunteer if you are nearby or able. Additionally, share as many posts about missing Native women as you can. Violence against women is a worldwide epidemic, but it is especially severe against Indigenous women.