MISSING AND MURDERED INDIGENOUS RELATIVES INITIATIVE
Ending colonial violence to Indigenous People and Standing with Victims & Families
Being born Indigenous is a political act as settler descendant society is still intent on erasing our sovereignty and very existence. We are usually left out of important national conversations but yet we suffer some of the highest rates of violence, sexual assault, suicide, and depression in the country. Many of our youth suffer serious hardships that rob them of their childhood, which forces them to grow up before their time. By middle age, many of our relatives are still suffering from intergenerational trauma and abusing drugs and alcohol.
It is no surprise to our Indigenous communities that many of our people fall through the cracks. With little to no protection, our Indigenous relatives fall victim to sex trafficking, murder, rape, and other unspeakable crimes. The Violence Against Women Act included minimal Indigenous protection, but it still sits in limbo waiting to be re-approved and passed. Our current administration does little for First Nations in offering protection on any kind of level. As we continue to see our system fail our Indigenous people, we can no longer sit back and watch our relatives go end up missing and murdered. First Nations have taken upon themselves to protect themselves and raise awareness. First Nations are demanding justice where law enforcement and legislation have turned their heads away from this epidemic.
With the history of this land, Indigenous peoples face a lot of adversities and hardships. The epidemic known as #MMIR (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives) or popularly termed as #MMIW (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women), has recently gained more attention. However, this epidemic started as soon as the first settlers made contact with First Nations on Turtle Island. Throughout centuries of degradation and false imagery, Indigenous people are portrayed in a negative connotation. Indigenous women are continuously being oversexualized in movies and imagery. From this false imagery (usually in movies and books) comes a troubling fascination that puts Indigenous peoples at danger for exploitation.
The Lenice Blackbird Story
In 2020, Lenice Blackbird went missing while quarantining and was later found dead at Big Elk Park on the Omaha Reservation. A year later, her family spoke about the many questions left unanswered concerning her murder as they continue to seek justice. This mini-documentary was filmed and edited by Great Plains Action Society MMIR Initiative Director, Trisha Etringer.
Without any help or funding, many grassroots organizers are left to make proactive solutions.
Great Plains Action Society is one of those grassroots organizations. Our goal is to help fundraise money to help victims and their families in their healing process as well as seeking the justice that their loved one deserves. Our goal is to create proactive solutions.
All proceeds will go to legal fees, memorial planning, travel/lodging (for court or #MMIR-related event), educational workshop materials (paper, pencils, etc.), and domestic violence prevention (self-defense training, workshops, etc.). This fund will be for victims and their families.
We would like to extend our gratitude for our "on-the-ground" grassroots organizations who truly put in the hard work in collecting data, providing safe spaces, searching for our relatives, and any other capacity that deals with this trauma work. It is not easy. We extend our support and hearts out to families, friends, and anyone who has been affected by the loss of a loved one, a co-worker, a sister, a brother, a child due to physical, psychological, and emotional abuse. We will continue to serve as an ally to those individuals.
Violence Against Women Act
According to the 2018 Research Policy Update from the National Congress of American Indians, four out of five Native women will have experienced violence and more than half will have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime. In addition, Native women are ten times higher than the national average to be victims of murder in some countries. Two-spirits (popularly known as being a member of the LBGTQ+ community) are often targets of violence due to the societal pressures of not following the traditional binary gender roles which stems from patriarchal beliefs. The Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness quoted a report by Balsalm et al., “Gender based violence, including sexual assault and physical violence, is committed against 78% to 85% of Indigenous Two Spirit individuals.” The Minnesota Office of Justice and Minnesota Statistical Analysis Center reported “In 2017, among survivors receiving services in Minnesota, nearly 75% were BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) and 50% of all survivors were girls and young women under age 25 (compared to boys and young men who comprised 6% of all survivors).” This is a continuation of the United States’ legacy of violence.
In most cases, perpetrators are not brought to justice because of final autopsy reports. The autopsy reports may indicate that a victim died due to hypothermia or drug overdose when in reality - domestic violence occurred. As a result of an argument gone wrong, Native victims are then left out in the cold with nowhere to run. Thus, dying from hypothermia which stemmed from domestic violence.
There is undoubtedly continued failure when it comes to bringing justice to the families and friends of MMIR victims. Current laws regarding jurisdiction on tribal land make it hard to prosecute non-Native perpetrators to be charged and convicted for assaulting Native Peoples on their own lands. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which was introduced by President Joe Biden 25 years ago, added Title IX, Safety for Indian Women, in 2013. This section of VAWA gave power to tribal jurisdictions to prosecute any non-Native perpetrator, but only when one of the three stipulations occur: 1.) domestic violence, 2.) dating violence, and 3.) any violation of protection order occurs IN Indian Country - meaning that there is a pre-existing relationship between the perpetrator and victim. The victim themselves will need to be of a “participating tribe” in order for the prosecution to occur. The Trump administration had the opportunity to re-authorize VAWA, but decided not to. It currently awaits re-authorization by the Biden Administration.
Read more about the VAWA at Sikowis' Bustle Column at:
Read more about the damage the Trump administration did to VAWA on our blog:
Fossil Fuel Extraction and Mancamps
In a recent article published by StarTribune, seven pipeline workers were arrested and charged in a sex trafficking ring. When Matthew T. Hall, a 53-year-old pipeline worker, was asked about his gross conduct, he stated that he was “thousands of miles away from home.” He then stated that he had heard about an online source where he could have sex with underage girls in exchange for money. This led to an online investigation where undercover agents who acted as underaged girls and discovered seven other pipeline workers were also engaging. While the pipeline corporation vows that they have a “zero-tolerance” policy for any illegal activity, this doesn’t stop out-of-state workers from engaging in dangerous activities such as sex trafficking. Fossil fuel extraction projects are notoriously correlated with sex trafficking and substance abuse.
Read more about man-camps and increased violence in Indigenous communities in Sikowis' United Nations intervention presented in May 2019:
Learn more from this video created by Operations Organizer, Trish Etringer of an MMIW/KXL rally coordinated by Feild Organizer, Mahmud Fitil.
Sex trafficking is now gaining more attention as well. However, sex trafficking has been happening since first contact with settlers. Indigenous women and girls were sold for sex and then put to death when they were no longer of “use.” The greatly celebrated historical figures such as Christopher Columbus and George Washington have been known for encouraging violence and abuse against Indigenous women and girls. Christopher Columbus even wrote about this in his journals:
“A hundred castellanoes are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and it is very general and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls, those from nine to ten are now in demand” (Columbus, 2003).
Stark and Hudon go further into how colonization, homelessness, and prostitution are interconnected. They state, “Native women experience numerous disparities in income, poverty that inhibit them from being able to live their lives as they would like. Instead, many exist in a revolving door of homelessness, domestic violence, rape, abduction, stalking, and sexual exploitation and torture in prostitution and sex trafficking.”
With societal factors such as poverty, homelessness, and foster care, some Native girls and women are taught to survive in the world by getting into sex work. Sex traffickers often prey on individuals who exhibit low self-esteem, depression, and substance abuse. Some sex traffickers can even engage in a conversation and physical cues with an individual to choose whether or not they are going to sex-traffick them.
We uplift the fact that sex work can be a liberating job we also do not shy away from the severity of the issue at hand. For Indigenous Peoples, there are hundreds of years of abuse and exploitation in conjunction with sex work. If you suspect someone is being sex trafficked, please call 1 (888) 373-7888 (National Sex Trafficking Hotline)
Domestic violence within Native communities seems to be the conversation hardly ever talked about, but widely known to keep happening. In addition, Natives who are in an interracial (Native and non-Native) relationship are more likely to experience violence than intraracial (Native and Native) relationships (U.S. Department of Justice, 2016). This calls for legislation to reinstate the Violence Against Women Act with the special addition of protecting Natives against non-Native perpetrators and making sure that justice is sought.
Read more on our blog about COVID, the increase of gun sales and the escalation of gender-based violence: