What is going on?
Indigenous women in the United States and in Canada are going missing at a shockingly exorbitant rate. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) contends an estimated 1,181 Indigenous women have gone missing, and 1,017 have been murdered since 1980 in Canada alone. But advocacy groups put the figure much higher at around 4,000 women. Indigenous women face a murder rate six times the national average.
Right now, not only is there an ongoing pandemic, but police fail to provide protection for these women and bring justice to their families. The media also fails to provide any coverage of the issue. Thus, the pandemic creates a trifold issue. Women are disappearing “not once, but three times: in life, in the media, and in the data.”
History of Indigenous People’s Genocide
European settlers arrived in North America beginning in the late 1400s. They soon began to enact a systematic genocide to cleanse the land of its Native peoples, increase European presence in the area, and eventually form settler-colonial states now known as the United States of America and Canada. Europeans saw Native Americans as obstacles in their colonial project, and thus demonized them as “wild savages” who sought to harm the newly arrived settlers. This dehumanization allowed Europeans to justify their ethnic cleansing. Throughout their history, Native Americans have seen improper nutritional care at the hands of their colonizers leading to decreasing birth rates, mass incarceration, involuntary servitude, missionary schools which erased indigenous identity, and obscene police brutality. And today, Native American women are murdered and sexually assaulted at rates as high as 10 times the average. As well, individuals outside the Native American community typically perpetrate these crimes.
Why is this happening?
The current pandemic results from the harmful power dynamic European settlers created upon establishing these nation-states. Colonists consistently viewed the Native American community as a menace in their nation. And throughout both nations’ histories, the U.S. and Canada have molded their institutions in a manner to maintain its legacy of white supremacy. Nation-state founders designed state institutions specifically to perpetrate genocide, not to protect the Native American community. The police often show dismissive attitudes towards women survivors, or families of missing women casting them as “runaways” or “drunk.” An estimated 60% of police departments either failed to respond to the request, or returned incomplete or compromised data. This epidemic stems from a lack of state protection towards the Native American community, and is merely a continuation of genocide.
How to Help?
The best way to help with the ongoing pandemic is to support the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s Movement (MMIW). This organization focuses efforts on protecting indigenous women from violence, and intensifying efforts to find missing women. Donations, policy changes, and media coverage will further bring more light to such an uncovered topic.