Author: Devan Gunther, WPJC Intern
More than 4 out of 5 Indigenous women have experienced violence, with 1 out of 2 having experienced sexual assault. In 2016, almost six thousand missing Indigenous women and girls were reported. Only 116 of them were logged in the United States’ federal missing person database.
Violence against Native American women——and Native Americans as a whole—is not anything new. The data shows a governmental indifference——if not malice——towards the lives of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG).
With a red handprint over the mouth and the mantra “no more stolen sisters,” people have sought to bring national attention to this issue. However, apathy and a lack of attention towards this violence——often due to anti-Indigenous racism——disregards these preventable tragedies. The cases get lost due to institutional mismanagement and negligence. The women fall through the cracks, often victims to addiction, domestic violence, and sex trafficking. The women and girls continue to go missing, and the ones that return often go missing again because of insufficient follow-up or support. Too often, they don’t come back.
The vanishing and murders of Native Americans has a legacy that goes back hundreds of years to one of the most fatal events in history. Though, often it’s not ever referred to by its true name: genocide.
There’s significance in language, in how one describes both the past and the present. The term “ethnic cleansing” was used in the Bosnian Genocide to avoid calling it what it was, to give a loophole so that other states didn’t have to intervene per the UN Genocide Convention—--so they wouldn’t face the consequences of their crimes. Russia still denies that the Holodomor—--the intentional famine of Ukrainians—--was a genocide. The People’s Republic of China denies the current genocide of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang. In the same way, the United States denies the genocide of the Native Americans by European colonizers and the current genocidal discrimination against them today.
According to Genocide Watch, there are ten stages of genocide, with the final stage being “denial”. Denial is said to last throughout the genocide itself and tends to follow it, leading in the coverup of evidence as well as systematic oppression of the traumatized survivors. The United States’ own denial of the past only furthers this, cementing the dismissal of their present day massacres.
Genocidal acts do not have to just be about the killing of the physical body——they are also of the culture, the religion, the identity. The United Nations defines genocide as
"[...] any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
Genocides are not exceptional. There have been dozens (if not more) in history and many remain unnamed or mislabeled. Most claims of “misuse” of the label genocide come from people who either don’t know the definition or are in denial of these atrocious acts. Not every genocide is the same and not every genocide is condemned.
In bringing attention to the missing and murdered Indigenous people, we must refer to the past and present with a label that reflects the truth——it was and is an ongoing genocide. We must emphasize how that past has caused the issues of apathy and denial today. European colonizers had the intent to destroy Native Americans and that intent is still here, that genocide is still with us. The destruction of Indigenous people in America still continues to this day with the pipelines through native land, with revoking reservation status from tribes, with ignoring the pleas for help amidst the pandemic outbreak in these areas, with ignoring the ever growing list of missing and murdered Indigenous women...
With every death or disappearance is another victim added to this legacy of genocide, another sister stolen. Another cultural practice lost, another unjust incarceration of an Indigenous man, another sacred site desecrated for racial capitalism...The United States continues to deny the Native American genocide and will continue to do so unless widespread attention is brought to this issue. To ignore what is occurring is to be complicit. We cannot continue to deny the truth of what is occurring any longer. The colonization of the Americas involved a genocide of the Indigenous people and that genocide never truly stopped——people must speak out and lift Indigenous voices, must call the mass execution by its true name——genocide——and we must start on structural reforms and reparations for Indigenous people.
Please consider donating to one of the following organizations, clans, or nations:
Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women (CSVANWW)
Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women USA’s (MMIW USA)
National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center
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