Native women are facing a crisis of violence. Homicide is the third leading cause of death among Native girls and women aged 10 to 24, and the fifth leading cause of death for Native women aged 25 to 34. In the United States today, American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) women are nearly 2.5x more likely to be sexually assaulted than women in the general population. 70% of these violent victimizations are committed by persons of a different race (Department of Justice).
As we’ve reported in the past, lack of media attention and misreporting has minimized this issue. According to a study by the Urban Indian Health Institute, many victims are often racially misclassified, skewing the data. In addition, there are tense relationships between law enforcement and American Indian and Alaska Native communities. This, paired with media bias in reporting missing and murdered persons cases, leads to a wide discrepancy in data. In 2016, there were 5,712 reported cases of MMIWG2S, but only 116 of them were logged in the Department of Justice website (Urban Indian Health Institute). However, community leaders and activists emphasize that this data doesn’t accurately represent the true number of the population that goes missing.
So, advocates are rallying for justice. Conversations with the hashtags #MMIW, #MMIWG and #MMIWG2S are garnering intention both in the United States and abroad. (The abbreviations stand for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women; Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls; and Missing and Murdered Women, Girls and Two-Spirit people, respectively) (APA). This organizing is holding federal and local governments accountable; Savanna’s Act, passed earlier this year, aims to increase data coordination and collection and improve protocol between law enforcement and Native communities (Teen Vogue).
It’s critical that we amplify efforts to raise awareness and take action. To learn more about this injustice and how we can support, I interviewed my friend Lauren Schad, athlete and activist, on her work advocating for MMIW.
How does being a professional athlete influence your advocacy efforts?
In my experience as a professional athlete, I have found that there is a lot of confusion and misinformation about us as Native peoples – not just in my homelands of the United States, but in Europe as well. Therefore, having the opportunity to live overseas for my career now allows me to reach an audience on an international level. The networking system that is naturally embedded within the sports community allows for information to travel quickly. Meaning, the work of others and myself regarding our advocacy for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Womxn now become an open dialogue for people on a global spectrum.
You’ve been vocal about supporting MMIW throughout your career – on and off the court. Do you experience any pushback?
There is always going to be pushback or denial when you are fighting against a system inherently prejudiced against BIPOC womxn. People are often unaware of this decimation against Indigenous womxn and the staggering statistics we face, solely because of the lack of coverage, documentation, legislation, representation, and resources outside of Indigenous communities. Our people are fighting this daily, but when there is a systemic structure already in place to silence us, the battle for justice becomes that much harder.
On more than one occasion, I have had strangers come up to me and try to validate actions blatantly harmful to Native Womxn by telling me how I should have felt about the situation. I have been questioned about the authenticity of my testimony simply because people cannot believe that “In this day and age, this still happens?” I have even heard that MMIWG2S is not, in fact, a motion of people demanding justice, protection, and resources for our womxn and children, but a political movement. No matter how much you progress, there will always be people, governments, and corporations who choose to ignore and diminish the endless work our people have endured since the beginning of colonization – including the ongoing work and efforts by the community for our stolen sisters.
The way I overcome this is by remembering and honoring all of our stolen sisters. Reminding ourselves that this is not about us. It is about them – and giving them a voice when theirs has been silenced. It is our innate responsibility as Indigenous people to protect one another, to honor these lives and do right by them.
How do you feel social media plays a role in advocating for MMIW?
Social media can be a critical tool in relaying knowledge, especially for a motion like MMIW. When you have a group of people severely lacking representation in mass media, those people must find ways to spread that information across large platforms to larger audience to make an impact. For a cause as large-scale as MMIW, social media plays a key role in educating those who are unaware of this genocide happening to Indigenous womxn. On various platforms, you are confronted by many Indigenous advocates speaking up about what they believe in and find important. And because of this, this idea of harmless ignorance can no longer be used as an excuse. It has the ability to give us as Native peoples a voice on platforms you wouldn’t often see elsewhere. We can now create the content and narrative of our own stories and peoples without a go-between. It’s just us and our voices. There is something extremely powerful in that.
How do you wish other people, particularly those that are not a part of the Indigenous community, would take action?
For those not a part of the Indigenous community, I hope they take the time to educate themselves further – not only about MMIW, but the ongoing persecution Indigenous peoples have faced throughout history. Then, once they have listened to the attestation of Native peoples, open that dialect to the people in their circle. Become an ally and help champion an important cause. If I have learned anything by speaking up about MMIW, it is that the oppression we have faced is an ongoing effort to dehumanize and silence Native peoples as a whole.
Everything is interconnected with one another: the exploitation of the land, our stolen sisters, the hypersexualization and caricaturing of our people (read more)…each are a cause and effect of one another. Our voices are powerful entities, and if we use them, we can create intentional and impactful change.
Lauren Schad (she/her) is the youngest of three daughters born and raised in Paha Sapa (Black Hills) in Rapid City, South Dakota. She is currently a professional starter for Volleyball Nantes. Inspired by Rosalie Fish, Lauren dedicates each match to a woman/child on the ongoing list of Missing Murdered and Indigenous women, baring their name on her hand. With the amount of spectators that attend matches, she believes this movement plays an instrumental part in opening the dialogue on an international scale; that in order to educate and bring awareness to this epidemic, one must first get people to ask the question. Read her full bio >
Native women are facing a crisis of violence.
Over 5,000 Native women are marked as missing persons, but a small percentage are recognized by the federal government
Media bias, misreporting, and distrust with law enforcement all causes discrepancies in reported cases, making it difficult to gather accurate data
Raising awareness about this issue helps drive action by local and federal government