Indigenous women in the USA and Canada face alarming femicide rates. These sixteen days of “Activism Against Gender-Based Violence” should serve to shine a spotlight upon the marked terror they face.
Recently, Wendy R. Sherman, the USA’s Deputy Secretary of State, made remarks for International Day of the Girl, which took place on October 11th, 2022, regarding women’s equality in the areas of security and education across the globe.
Within her diverse remarks covering the progress made in said areas and the work still required, I honed in on the following passage;
“Native American women and girls —we just had Indigenous People’s Day—are disproportionately the victims of femicide and are more than twice as likely to be sexually assaulted than the general population. These numbers are staggering. We can and we must do better”.
Such an alarming statement cannot, and should not, be underestimated.
Sherman then went on to talk about actions taken by the US, and other governments, in response to such an epidemic.
“In July, the White House hosted a Trilateral Working Group on Violence Against Indigenous Women and Girls with Mexico and Canada, along with Indigenous leaders from all three countries. We reaffirmed our joint commitment to work together—to work in partnership with Indigenous peoples—to address the root causes that put people at greater risk of gender-based violence”.
But why is such a group necessary and what does the evidence demonstrate?
Danger All Around for Indigenous Women
In Canada, there are murdered and missing indigenous women, enduring femicide and domestic violence, with women being unable to walk the streets at night without glancing over their shoulders.
This is the sad reality for women, and even more so for indigenous women across the nation, that has necessitated a response.
A response that came in the form of an annual rally and march, “Take Back the Night”, which highlights gender-based violence in order to “reclaim” the night, took place in September of this year.
On the evening of the 22nd of September, people were seen holding signs that read “Stop abusing women”, “My body, my choice” and “my little dress is not a dress”. These statements, among the many other reasons, identify why women and those to identify as women struck the pavement in order to march in support of survivors and against gender-based violence in Ottawa.
One in three women will endure sexual violence, according to the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Ottowa. In addition, in Canada, one in two women will experience physical and or sexual violence in their lifetime.
On a wholly different metric, Indigenous girls and women are targets of violence more than any other group, along with being 12 times more likely to be killed or go missing in Canada.
What’s more, Amina Doreh, from the center, has stated that the pandemic has exacerbated the situation;
Read: A Leap Backwards in Time
“It was much harder for survivors… In the last two years, people have been isolated in their homes. There’s been a lot of folks who haven’t been able to access typical resources like they used to.”
On the other hand, the situation across the border in the USA appears to be no better.
Indigenous girls and women homicide rate, as reported by the Wyoming National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, is six times higher than for white girls and women in the USA, and 94% of cases can be assigned to current and former partners. However, the sheer severity of said epidemic remains out of the light as around 50% of indigenous homicide reports are absent from FBI data, the center states, thus many lives lost are neglected in much of the official counting.
Even when indigenous women are reported missing, there appears to be a lack of effort in finding them, the statistics show. Take the state of Wyoming, where 81% of white people are found a week after being declared missing, in contrast to only 61% of indigenous women in the same timeframe.
US Laws safeguarding Indigenous rights, affording power to federal and tribal courts, but not state ones, can complicate situations as well.
Take, for example, the 2019 case of 17-year-old Faith Lindsey, who went missing in Pauls Valley Oklahoma. While Tanner Washington, her boyfriend, was apprehended under the charge of first-degree murder by local authorities, due to them finding Lindsey’s blood on his pants, shoes, and phone, the charges were subsequently dropped as the alleged crime occurred on tribal land.
Although a Federal charge was applied later, this demonstrates the issue of jurisdiction, accountability, and the neglect of native peoples quite markedly, as her body has yet to be found.
Abandonment & Recovery
As of this moment, no nation has specifically highlighted indigenous girls and women in their legislation, regarding femicide, a serious omission given the rates at which indigenous women suffer at the hands of this horrific crime, both in the USA and Canada.
As such, proceeding forward, indigenous women’s situation, firstly, need to be platformed in the mainstream media ecosystem which, along with giving a voice to indigenous women and grassroots organizations, can apply pressure to representatives at the state and national level, in order to legislate the special provisions required to tackle such abhorrent violence that takes place.
Indigenous women deserve to live in dignity, respect, and security. To live their lives the way they please free of gender-based violence, and the fear associated with its ever-looming presence.
They need their case illuminated for the public and addressed effectively and compassionately.
Not left to scream in the cold and dispassionate dark.