The spectrum of violence committed against women commonly connected to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking, and sex trafficking is staggering. However, there are many groups of at-risk and marginalized people who are underrepresented by law enforcement and media. This includes Indigenous women and girls, such as American Indian, Alaska and Canadian Natives, who fall prey to abduction, abuse, and murder at the hands of violent offenders.
Today marks the beginning of #MMIWG Awareness and National Action Week (April 29-May 5), culminating with May 5th as the National Day of Awareness for MMIWG. It is a call to action in honor of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
This cause is part of the larger global epidemic of violence against women that is personal to me, so I want to let my friends understand it better. Please keep reading to learn more.
What is MMIWG?
MMIWG (also MMIWG2S) stands for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (and “Two-Spirit” Transgender Natives).
The long-standing crisis of MMIWG is attributed in part to the trauma caused by colonization going back for more than 500 years and the horrors that have been afflicted on Indigenous communities.
Over 1,000 Indigenous women and girls have been missing or murdered throughout the U.S. and Canada in the last decade. Many of these cases have been overlooked and ignored by law enforcement and media. Native people are often targeted for the color of their skin and anti-Indianism. On average, the age of victims is just 29 years old.
In response, grassroots efforts have grown at the local, national, and global level, recognizing May 5th as a National Day of Awareness for MMIWG.
Why May 5th?
In 2013, Hanna Harris, a 21-year-old Northern Cheyenne woman (born on May 5th), was reported missing in Montana. The single mom of a 10-month-old son had been brutally sexually assaulted and beaten to death on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. Her young life was extinguished, and her baby would grow up without a mother.
This tragedy is part of a larger problem – the silence, tolerance, and inaction in response to the crisis of MMIWG.
Since Hanna’s murder, Native families, advocates, and Indigenous nations have risen to challenge to draw attention to the MMIWG crisis by organizing community searches and actions, tribal press conferences, and justice marches.
Organizations like the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center (NIWRC) are helping to bring awareness to MMIWG as well by supporting surviving family members and holding governments and failed systems accountable and responsible for this crisis.
Hanna is just one of the many faces of innocent indigenous victims who have been taken from this world.
The hard reality is that four out of 5 Native women are affected by violence, while the murder rate of Native women is MORE THAN 10 times the national average, according to the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women.
In fact, murder is the third leading cause of death among American Indian and Alaska Natives, according to a 2018 report by the Urban Indian Health Institute (UIHI).
UIHI also identified:
- 506 cases of MMIWG in 71 urban cities across the U.S.
- 280 (56%) were murder cases.
- 128 (25%) were missing persons cases.
- 98 (19%) had an unknown status.
- Of those reported cases, 66 were tied to domestic and sexual violence.
- An additional 153 cases do not exist in law enforcement records.
- 29 is the median age of MMIWG victims.
“The lack of good data and the resulting lack of understanding about the violence perpetrated against urban American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls is appalling and adds to the historical and ongoing trauma [they] have experienced for generations. … Bringing to light the stories of these women through data is an integral part of moving toward meaningful change that ends this epidemic of violence.”UIHI.org
The Unfortunate Truth
When Gabby Petito went missing in Wyoming in 2021, six law-enforcement agencies, including the FBI, devoted resources to finding her.
In just one week, ending on Sept. 22, 2021, her case had:
- 956 million+ views on TikTok
- 398 mentions on Fox News
- 346 mentions on CNN
- 100 mentions on MSNBC
- …Source: The Washington Post
According to New York Magazine, if she had been an Indigenous woman, this would not have happened. In Wyoming alone, between the years of 2000-2019, a total of 710 Indigenous people, most of them women and girls, were reported missing.
American Indian and Alaska Native women living on tribal lands are murdered at rates more than 10 times the national average (U.S. Department of Justice). And yet, the media and law enforcement agencies barely recognize Indigenous women and girls, and other marginalized people.
Instead, 51% of Caucasian homicide victims, including Petito, receive local and state media coverage. But only 18% of murdered Indigenous women and girls receive local and state media coverage.
While I don’t know firsthand what the women and families affected by MMIWG go through, as a woman, I do understand domestic violence. I feel for Gabby and her family and friends, and anyone affected by violence and cruelty, but I also understand the disparity between victims of privileged societal groups and marginalized communities. There should be equal representation for all victims, no matter their race, gender, sexual preference, age, or background.
I understand what it’s like to be taken … from the life you knew, your friends, hopes and dreams by abusers who control every aspect of it until you’re unrecognizable to yourself and become a shell of what you once were, left only to pick up the pieces and rebuild yourself from the ground up.
I’m grateful to have survived my abusers, but I am saddened by the women who were not as lucky. Every life matters. Enough is enough – no more stolen sisters!
MMIWG: What We’re Doing
The band I recently joined, God in Rehab, is based on the creative insight of its founder, guitarist Spookie Rollings, who happens to come from Indigenous ancestors (Muscogee Creek Nation).
The first original song idea Spookie approached me with was a passion project of his called “Solemn,” which had long been in the works. He wrote the music years before in reflection and remembrance of the Native women who have been abducted, murdered, and all but forgotten by mainstream society. But he needed lyrics to bring a voice to the song. That’s where I came in.
After spending several weeks learning about MMIWG and offering my own perspective on the topic, I sent him my lyrics and sang the idea for Spookie in person. I never expected him to tear up. The emotions conveyed in the song, finally bringing this personal concept for him to life, made us both break down and cry, and we agreed it was time to hit the studio. A few weeks later, I recorded vocals on Spookie’s music tracks, our drummer, Matt Hosafros, added samples and sequencing, and the song was mixed and mastered by sound engineer Sean Sheppard.
To honor the MMIWG Awareness and National Action Week and National Day of Awareness, God in Rehab will be releasing the song “Solemn” on Bandcamp, with all proceeds going to MMIWG Awareness. In addition, Spookie has painted a portrait in remembrance of MMIWG, which is the cover art for the single. And our drummer, Matt Hosafros created the music video tribute to the women and girls lost to MMIWG2S.
BUY ‘SOLEMN’ ON BANDCAMP – All proceeds go to MMIWG2S Awareness.
In addition, Spookie and I recorded this live acoustic version of “Solemn” at Sad Ghost Studio in Tennessee on May 3, 2022.
MMIWG: What Can You Do?
You can participate in virtual events, explore MMIWG resources, donate to the cause, or promote it in your community on and around May 5th.
If you’re interested in hearing more personal stories about the women affected by MMIWG, watch “Taken: The Series.”
Between April 29-May 5, you can also wear red in solidarity and post your photos on social media with the tags #NoMoreStolenSisters #MMIW #MMIWG #MMIWG2S #MMIWActionNow.
National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center:
Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women (CSVANW)
National Domestic Violence Hotline
- 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
StrongHearts Native Helpline
- 1-844-7NATIVE (762-8483)
- Chat: strongheartshelpline.org
Header photo from Pexels.com.