Today marks the first national holiday and Indigenous Day in US history. Today is also International Girl’s Day, a day in support of raising awareness of global gender inequality. In this convergence, it seems only appropriate to shed light on Native American girls and the erasure of local women in the mass media.
As part of my work with Protect the sacred, program from Harness to educate and empower the next generation of Indian leaders, I listen carefully to the priorities of our youth. Given the lack of protection at the local, state, and federal levels, our young leaders have expressed serious concerns about the safety of our local girls. In light of the national coverage of Gabby Petito’s case, more than the local community is doubling the demands around this concern and asking: What about us?
Two weeks after he disappeared while traveling with his fiancé, Petito was found murdered. I send my prayers and condolences to her family and loved ones; I prayed for a different result. While the investigation into her death continues, her case still dominates the headlines. The attention and scope of Petito’s case over the past month certainly reveals racial differences that we as indigenous people have known and felt many times over the years – and this continues to be heartbreaking for our community.
In Wyoming, the state where the body of Petito was found, a task force for missing and killed locals report found that 710 indigenous people – mostly girls – had disappeared since 2011. Their stories receive almost no coverage and almost never lead the news cycle. When a case is still covered, it is often fraught with stereotypes and language blaming the victims. Indigenous and other victims of color must receive the same level of coverage and support as Gabi Petito, because all the girls on this planet are daughters, granddaughters, sisters, nieces and nephews. No family should ever have to deal with the trauma of losing their children without support.
Beyond Wyoming there are much larger #MMIWG (Missing and Killed Local Women and Girls) and #MMIR (Missing and Killed Local Relatives) movement to pay attention to the appalling statistics that are unfortunately a reality for many local communities across the country: indigenous peoples ten times more likely to be killed of the national homicide rate; It’s murder the third leading cause of death for Native American and Native American women from Alaska; Native American women under the age of 35 have experience a greater risk of murder than any other demographic.
Local women and girls know these numbers like the backs of our hands. We are brought up to be cautious and hyperauer. They tell stories of our mothers, aunts and sisters who disappeared and were later found killed – or who disappeared and were never found at all. Although we travel through life with acute awareness, many of us still experience situations that send our nerves into the stratosphere.
I can’t tell you how many times alarms have gone off in my head because of ignorant men whose ideas about local women are clearly set in fantasy. In a not very original way, I was called by men who wanted me to be their Pocahontas. Those who didn’t realize I was born, and then realized I was, will say things I didn’t know people could even say in the 21st century. Unfortunately, I know I’m not alone. Almost all the women in my family can tell their own stories.
This treatment can stem from stereotypes presented in pop culture and the mass media. Often, instead of positive images, local women become hypersexualized and blame the victims. A clear example is that of Adam Sandler The ridiculous 6, a 2015 film that humiliates local women, starting with the female names of the characters: Smoking Fox, Beaver Breath and Never Wears Bra. This kind of story has a detrimental effect on local girls. We become targets. In addition to high homicide rates, more than one in two local women will be raped or sexually assaulted throughout their lives, according to Indian Legal Resource Center. I am part of this statistic, as are many women in my family. In fact, most of the local women I know are part of this statistic.
One of the solutions to protect local girls is to always oppose this type of representation and advocate for accurate, positive representation of local women. Another solution is to create space for local women to share and improve their stories and to expand and support cases of missing local women.
According to a report of the Indian Institute of Health on Urban Conditions entitled “Missing and killed local women and girls”, 5,712 cases were reported to MMIWG in 2016 and only 116 of them were registered in the database of the Ministry of Justice. It is for this reason that one of Ch. Deb Halland’s first actions as Home Secretary were the creation and launch of The department disappeared and was killed to prosecute for missing or killed Indians and Alaskan natives. Indigenous people praised Chap. Haaland for the creation of this unit in support of local women and girls who continue to be abandoned by conversations and decisions and whose stories are not raised by the media.
I hope you will join me today, on this first Indigenous Day and International Girl’s Day, by telling the names and sharing the stories of some of these local women and girls who are either still missing or whose cases have not been resolved. :
Misty Upham: A rising Hollywood actress whose body was found in Auburn, Washington, in 2014, after she disappeared while visiting her sister. According to a report, the 32-year-old died of blunt force head and torso injuries. The local community supported Misty’s family keep searching for answers in her untimely death.
Kaysera stops beautiful places: An 18-year-old who was killed in August 2019 in Big Horn County, Montana.
Cecilia Barber Finona: A U.S. Army veteran whose body is in Clark County, Nevada, in February 2021. after nearly two years of searching.
Pepita the Redhead: 27-year-old, who was reported missing in March 2020. She is still unknown, and her family is still looking for her. She was last seen in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Come May Run: 62-year-old professional weaver who disappeared from Sweetwater, Arizona, on June 15, 2021. The Navajo Police Department contacted the person of interest, Preston Tolt, who was according to reports arrested on charges unrelated to Begai’s disappearance. There has been no update in her case since the summer and our Diné (Navajo) community is seeking justice. Begai has brown eyes, weighs 110-120 kilograms and is just over five feet tall. It may be in a 2005 silver Ford F-150 with registration number AFE7101 from Arizona. Navajo Shiproke County is he asks anyone with information to call 505-368-1350 or 505-368-1351.
To support the ongoing search for many of our missing relatives and to help raise awareness of the #MMIWG and #MMIR movements, you can follow these Instagram accounts: Relatives of Diné are missing and killed,, MMIP | Who is missing,, Missing and killed Indians,, SacredMMIWG / FFADAsacrées,, Rising hearts, and National Resource Center for Local Women.
More information about the #MMIWG and #MMIR traffic can be found at Indigenous women of the United States are missing and killed,, National Resource Center for Local Women, and Indian City Health Institute.
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