Some shared agonizing stories of frustration and loss. Others prayed and performed ceremonies. Everything called for action.
On Wednesday across the United States, family members, advocates and government leaders commemorated an awareness day for the crisis. violence against Indigenous women and children. They gathered at virtual events, vigils and rallies in the state capitals and raised their voices on social media.
In Washington, a rally organized by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and other federal officials began with a prayer asking for guidance and grace from Indigenous families who have lost relatives and been victims of violence.
The rates of missing persons in the Native American and Alaska Native communities are disproportionate, alarming, and unacceptable. But I think we are at a turning point. We have one @POTUS @VP and an administration that sees us. And we can’t go back. #MMIP pic.twitter.com/RhMcgnqDtg
– Secretary Deb Haaland (ecSecDebHaaland) May 5, 2021
Before and after a moment of silence, officials from various agencies vowed to continue working with the tribes to address the issue.
As part of the ceremony, a red memorial shawl with the name of missing and dead indigenous women was placed on a long table to commemorate the lives behind what Haaland called alarming and unacceptable statistics. More names were added to the shawl on Wednesday.
Haaland, el first Native American The U.S. Cabinet Secretary and a former Democratic representative of the United States of New Mexico, recalled that they had heard families testifying about the search for loved ones alone and that they wore a red bow skirt to a congressional hearing representing the natives. missing and murdered Americans.
She believes the nation has reached a turning point and said it is time to resolve the crisis.
“Everyone deserves to feel safe in their communities, but the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous peoples is one that indigenous communities have faced since the dawn of colonization,” Haaland said when he joined. practically at the event.
“Wipe away the tears”
In Montana, a few dozen members of the state’s eight federally recognized tribes gathered in front of the Capitol in Helena, including many relatives of missing and murdered indigenous women.
Some wore red or had fingerprints painted on their mouths, symbolizing the movement of missing and murdered indigenous women.
Marvin Weatherwax, a Democratic state representative and a member of the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council, said legislative initiatives to address the issue have given hope to tribal citizens. The Blackfeet tribe has two ongoing searches to find missing members.
The event ended with a ceremony called “Cleaning the Tears,” where family members of the victims received colorful shawls. The gifts marked the end of mourning, said Jean Bearcrane, a citizen of the Crow tribe and executive director of the Montana Native Women Coalition.
“Among the tribes, when people are in distress, they dress in black,” he said.
The sisters, mothers and aunts of missing women shed tears as they received their shawls.
Indigenous women have been the victims of staggering rates, with federal figures showing that, along with non-Hispanic black women, they have experienced the highest homicide rates.
However, a 2018 Associated Press investigation found that no one knows the exact number of cases of Native Americans missing and murdered across the country because many are not reported, others are not well documented, and no government database makes a specific follow-up.
In New Mexico, members of the state task force on Wednesday shared some of the findings of their work over the past year, which included combing public records and soliciting data from nearly two dozen police agencies to better understand the scope of the problem. Only five agencies responded.
Even with such limited data, they noted that there are an estimated 660 cases of Indigenous people missing between 2014 and 2019 in the state’s largest urban center, placing Albuquerque among the U.S. cities with the largest number. of cases.
The New Mexico working group will be expanded and its work will extend until 2022, with the aim of recommending changes in policy and legislation.
“Their names will probably never be known”
Other states have also established working groups or commissions to focus on the problem, and Hawaii becomes the latest legislation to point to land dispossession, imprisonment, and harmful stereotypes as reasons for the increase in vulnerability to violence of native Hawaiians.
In Arizona, a couple of dozen people wearing red shirts and skirts gathered in front of the Phoenix State Capitol. They included several state lawmakers, along with representatives from the Phoenix Indian Center and the Medicine Wheel Ride motorcycle group, which has been carrying a message of awareness of missing and murdered Indigenous women.
Shelly Denny, a citizen of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe and a member of Medicine Wheel Ride, noted that support for the cause has been growing as more members of Indigenous communities share their stories.
“This movement was started by indigenous women, many of whom will probably never know their names. But they have been pushing the movement forward, ”he said.
Now, he added, “we will have to move on to prevention, protection and prosecution.”
President Joe Biden has pledged to strengthen resources to deal with the crisis and better consult with tribes to hold perpetrators accountable and keep communities safe.
Haaland said he includes more staff in the U.S. Indian Affairs Office unit dedicated to resolving cold cases and coordinating with Mexico and Canada to combat human trafficking.
The administration’s work will be based on some of the initiatives initiated during the tenure of former President Donald Trump. This included a working group formed by the Department of the Interior, the Department of Justice and other federal agencies to deal with violent crimes in the Indian country.
Advocates have claimed that lack of resources, language barriers and complex jurisdictional issues have exacerbated efforts to locate the missing and solve other crimes in the Indian country. They have also pointed to the need for more culturally appropriate services and training to deal with these cases.
Over the past year, advocacy groups have also reported that cases of domestic violence against indigenous women and children and sexual assault have increased as nonprofit groups and social workers have struggled to meet the additional challenges arising. of the coronavirus pandemic.
Bryan Newland, senior deputy secretary of Indian Affairs for the Department of the Interior, said the staffing of the Bureau of Indian Affairs unit will go from a team of ten to more than 20 officers and special agents with administrative and support staff. which he previously did not have.
He also said the federal government has begun distributing funding under the U.S. rescue plan law, including $ 60 million for public safety and law enforcement in the Indian country.
“We’re really looking to take advantage of a lot of the things that have been done, expand them and focus on them,” Newland said.