At the Intersection of Racism & Sexism: The Murders and Disappearances of Indigenous Women

FirstThanksgiving

The months of October and November in Canada and the United States are focused on turkeys, feasts, black Friday, and celebrations with family— months full of gratitude for all that we have. “The First Thanksgiving” in what is now the United States occurred in 1621 with 53 pilgrims and 90 Wampanoag Indians, and it was a tradition carried from the pilgrims’ experiences in England, a celebration of the harvest, giving thanks to God, and giving thanks to the Wampanoag Indians who helped them survive the winter and discover how to plant and hunt in the Americas.[1] In our current culture, giving thanks to Indigenous Peoples is essentially left out of the Thanksgiving celebrations. In this blog post I want to recognize them—recognize that instead of giving thanks we have only given them pain and heartache.

 

There are many issues facing Indigenous Peoples today because of the historic discrimination against them. These issues include mass incarceration, police killings, stripping away their land, exploiting their natural resources, a failing education system (only 51% of Native Americans in the class of 2010 graduated high school, which has to do with low U.S. government funding for Native Americans’ schools), a suicide epidemic, and the fact that the Canadian and United States’ governments do not recognize the rights of many Indigenous communities.[2] Today, I will be focusing on the high murder, disappearance rates, and sexual abuse of indigenous women and girls in the United States and Canada.

IndigenousWomanGraphic

In the United States, Native women are 2.5 times more likely to be sexually assaulted or raped than women nationally, meaning that more than 1 in 2 Native women will be sexually assaulted and 1 in 3 will be raped in her lifetime.[3] When presented with these statistics, the immediate response from most people is questioning whether the increased violence is due to life on the reservations, with high rates of alcoholism and drug abuse. It is important to note that 70% to 80% of the perpetrators of these crimes against American Indian women are not Native Americans, but are of a different race.[4][5] Another important factor to consider is that over 70% of Native women do not live on the reservations, but rather live in urban areas.[6] Unfortunately, very minimal research has been done on these women living in urban areas. Considering this evidence, it is clear that although factors like poverty and alcohol abuse could contribute to the abuse of Indigenous women, the root cause of this abuse is not in their culture or on the reservations, but in the history of racism and oppression against Indigenous Peoples.

HighwayOfTears

Another disturbing statistic is the rate at which Indigenous women and girls die in the United States and Canada. In Canada, Indigenous women comprise 4% of all women in Canada, yet they make up 16% of the women who are murdered.[7] In addition, while female homicides for women of other races have decreased in Canada since 1991, the rate of female homicides for Indigenous women has remained stable.[8] 17% of the homicides occur on the road, street, or highway, while only 1% of homicides of non-indigenous women occur in these places.[9] Canada’s Highway 16 is even known as the “highway of tears” because so many women (mostly indigenous) have been murdered there over the past decades.[10] The government reports that 10% of all missing women in Canada are Indigenous.[11]

UIHI_graphic

In the United States, murder is the third leading cause of death for American Indian/Alaska Native people.[12] A study done by the Urban Indian Health Institute (UIHI) analyzed 506 cases of murdered and missing Native American girls and women. These cases had a wide age range, with the youngest victim being less than a year old, and the oldest victim being 83 years old. These women had a variety of stories. Some were killed as a result of domestic violence, some were trans women, some were victims of police brutality, some were sex workers, some were pregnant, and others were homeless. Of the 506 cases of missing and murdered American Indian women, only 38 of the perpetrators were convicted (8%).[13] Of the 38 convicted, nine were never charged and four were acquitted.[14]

 

These statistics are horrific and tell a terrible story of oppression for those existing at the intersection of non-white and woman. It is easy to become numb to statistics, so let us now look at some of the stories of these women.

justiceforjackie

On January 29, 2016, Jaqueline Salyers was killed by police officers in Tacoma, Washington. Jaqueline and her boyfriend, Kenneth Wright, were living in their car in front of a friend’s house at the time. They had two children together, as well as another child on the way. Wright was wanted for a life-sentence by the police, and two police officers were sent to follow up on a lead about his location. The two officers found Wright, and called for back-up but went up to the car before it arrived. Salyers was frightened, so the couple did not get out of the car. Instead Salyers – who was in the driver’s seat – started inching the car forward trying to escape. One of the police officers was in front of the car and fired at Salyers 7 times. She died on the scene.[15]

 

In 2010 in Salt Lake City, Deborah Haudley was killed by her partner. She had confronted him about the women he was texting on his phone, and the argument escalated into physical violence, with her partner striking her. The next morning, he found her dead in the bed next to him. She had died from bleeding in the membrane between her brain and skull. Her partner was charged with homicide by assault.[16]

TinaFontaine

Tina Fontaine was 15 years old when she was murdered in Winnipeg, Canada. When she was young, Tina was sent to live with her aunt because her parents were dysfunctional. Her aunt said that Tina had aspired to be a social worker. However, when she was 12, her father was beaten to death over an argument about $60, and after this Tina fell apart. She left her aunt’s home and for a time lived with her mother, who was a sex-worker. Her mother abused her, so she left her mother and became homeless. She was homeless when she was murdered and dumped in the Manitoba River. Her aunt said after her murder, “Canada and the system failed Tina at every step. Why are so many of our girls dying?”[17]

 

This is a question that I invite all of us to think about this month. Why are so many Indigenous women and girls dying? What can we do to stop it? The answers to such complex problems are not simple, but by raising awareness, my hope is that we can encourage our local and national officials to remember their Native American citizens. Indigenous Peoples in the United States and Canada are speaking up about the wrongs that have been committed against them. We can’t ignore their voices anymore. Instead, we need to open our hearts and listen to their experiences. We can hold our governments responsible to protect the Indigenous people in their nations.

– CEM

[1] Brooks, Rebecca Beatrice. “The History of the First Thanksgiving.” History of Massachusetts Blog, 31 Aug. 2011, historyofmassachusetts.org/the-first-thanksgiving/.

[2] NoiseCat, Julian Brave. “13 Issues Facing Native People Beyond Mascots And Casinos.” HuffPost, HuffPost, 31 Aug. 2015, http://www.huffpost.com/entry/13-native-american-issues_n_55b7d801e4b0074ba5a6869c.

[3] Echo-Hawk, Abigail. Our Bodies, Our Stories: Sexual Violence Among Native Women in Seattle, WA. Urban Indian Health Institute, 2018, Our Bodies, Our Stories: Sexual Violence Among Native Women in Seattle, WA, http://www.uihi.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/UIHI_sexual-violence_r601_pagesFINAL.pdf.

[4]United States, Congress, Bureau of Justice Statistics, et al. “American Indians and Crime.” American Indians and Crime, U.S. Department of Justice, 1999.

[5] NoiseCat, Julian Brave. “13 Issues Facing Native People Beyond Mascots And Casinos.” HuffPost, HuffPost, 31 Aug. 2015, http://www.huffpost.com/entry/13-native-american-issues_n_55b7d801e4b0074ba5a6869c.

[6] Lucchesi, Annita, and Abigail Echo-Hawk. Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Report. Urban Indian Health Institute, 2019, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Report, http://www.uihi.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Missing-and-Murdered-Indigenous-Women-and-Girls-Report.pdf.

[7] Canada, Research and Statistics Division. “Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls – Just Facts.” Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls – Just Facts, Department of Justice, 2017. http://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr/jr/jf-pf/2017/july04.html.

[8] Canada, Research and Statistics Division. “Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls – Just Facts.” Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls – Just Facts, Department of Justice, 2017. http://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr/jr/jf-pf/2017/july04.html.

[9] Canada, Research and Statistics Division. “Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls – Just Facts.” Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls – Just Facts, Department of Justice, 2017. http://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr/jr/jf-pf/2017/july04.html.

[10] Levin, Dan. “Dozens of Women Vanish on Canada’s Highway of Tears, and Most Cases Are Unsolved.” The New York Times, 25 May 2016, p. 1, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/25/world/americas/canada-indigenous-women-highway-16.html.

[11] Canada, Research and Statistics Division. “Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls – Just Facts.” Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls – Just Facts, Department of Justice, 2017. http://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr/jr/jf-pf/2017/july04.html.

[12] Lucchesi, Annita, and Abigail Echo-Hawk. Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Report. Urban Indian Health Institute, 2019, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Report, http://www.uihi.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Missing-and-Murdered-Indigenous-Women-and-Girls-Report.pdf.

[13] Lucchesi, Annita, and Abigail Echo-Hawk. Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Report. Urban Indian Health Institute, 2019, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Report, http://www.uihi.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Missing-and-Murdered-Indigenous-Women-and-Girls-Report.pdf.

[14] Lucchesi, Annita, and Abigail Echo-Hawk. Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Report. Urban Indian Health Institute, 2019, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Report, http://www.uihi.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Missing-and-Murdered-Indigenous-Women-and-Girls-Report.pdf.

[15] Glenn, Stacia. “The Night Jacqueline Salyers Died: The Official Account.” The News Tribune, 21 May 2016, http://www.thenewstribune.com/news/local/crime/article79049822.html.

[16] Hunt, Stephen. “Man Pleads Guilty to Homicide in Girlfriend’s Death.” The Salt Lake Tribune, 8 Mar. 2011, archive.sltrib.com/article.php?id=51387599&itype=cmsid.

[17] Bilefsky, Dan. “Canada Struggles With Violence Against Indigenous Women.” The New York Times, 31 May 2019, p. 8.

 

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