Indigenous Women: Nations, Cultures, Voices

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#No More Stolen Sisters--October 4

Posted by on in SageWoman Blogs


"Indigenous women are going missing and being murdered at a much higher rate than other women in Canada—a rate so high it constitutes nothing less than a national human rights crisis."--Amnesty International

Have you ever heard of No More Stolen Sisters? Most people outside the Indigenous community have not, and I want us to consider why that is so. Though this is a heart-breaking issue to address and it feels much better to read my blog about Native women as doctors and as pow-wow dancers, this very serious issue must be talked about as well. Raising awareness about issues important to Native women is key if we are going to work together, people of all races and genders, to end the oppression of Native Americans.

Lack of national media coverage is one reason why few Americans know about the high rates of violence against Native American women. In addition to that, lack of historically accurate education in public schools and current news about happenings in Indian communities makes it even harder for non-Native people to understand why violence against Native women occurs today.


Photo: Activists stand vigil on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, 4 October 2012, to remember the missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada. Susanne Ure/Amnesty International

Though it sounds silly, many people believe that there are no more real Indigenous peoples remaining after colonial-era wars and forced removals, like the Cherokee Trail of Tears. Thus it seems irrelevant to have educational programs about Indigenous history in public schools and to publish in mainstream news outlets about what Native peoples are doing in their nations and communities today. These are common arguments from those who claim it is OK to use caricatures of Indians for sports mascots--"because doing so is not hurting anyone since there are no real Indians left anymore." What comes from this line of thinking, that is not only factually incorrect about the past and the present, is an easy way to ignore serious problems in Native American and Native Canadian communities. Violence against Native women is one of those issues that gets ignored. As you may have already read in last month's blog, there are millions of Indigenous peoples living today and hundreds of Indigenous nations with thriving communities.

Why are Native women especially targets for violence?

The Amnesty International site notes that "Indigenous women are far more likely than non-Indigenous women to experience violence. In a 2009 government survey of the ten [Canadian] provinces, Aboriginal women were nearly three times more likely than non-Aboriginal women to report being a victim of a violent crime." To add to this, the United States Department of Justice Report on violence against Indigenous women shows that, higher than any other demographic in the U.S., Native women are sexually assaulted by perpetrators NOT of their own race. Most sexual assaults are committed by a perpetrator of the victim's own race--not true for Native women. Why?

The answer is the continued effects of colonization.


A belief that Native American people are "less than human" and not deserving of human rights because of their spiritual and cultural beliefs--and because they are not traditionally Christians--is still pervasive in the Americas. For example, Native Americans were banned by U.S. federal law from practicing their religions and were punished by fines for doing so up until the Indian Reorganization Act reforms in the 1930s. This is only one example of how the cultural practices of Native peoples are understood as being wrong, and, thus, Native peoples themselves are understood as uncivilized, flawed people. These beliefs lead to violence from within and outside their communities. Amnesty International writes that "Decades of government policy have impoverished and broken apart Indigenous families and communities, leaving many Indigenous women and girls extremely vulnerable to exploitation and attack."

What can we do as a community of people who cares about Native American issues? "October 4 has become a national day to commemorate the lives of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls; over 200 vigils were held across the country last year. Cross-country walks have been held to raise awareness. Tens of thousands of petition signatures have been handed over to the federal government," notes the AI website. If you like, you can sign the petition at the link below.

For information about participating in a vigil or holding one of your own, see:


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Dr. Mays is a professional writer with a doctoral degree in Native American Studies who has taught at the college level for nearly two decades. She is committed to educating about Indigenous cultures, especially about practices that specifically relate to women, in order to raise awareness about current issues in Indian Country, dissolve stereotypes, and create healing among all communities.


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