Today we remember our Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. We remember Indigenous men and boys, who were victims of violence. We remember Two-Spirit, trans, and non-binary Indigenous victims of violence. Today is about telling their stories.
"Say Her Name." Indigenous People's March 2019. Teko Photography.
In our red dress we mourn our loved ones, but we also celebrate the victories in the strong advocacy of our matriarchs and other leaders. Women leaders on Turtle Island have worked hard to bring attention to the issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous People. Their efforts started as grassroots initiatives and have graduated to national campaigns for awareness, solidarity, and an Executive Order mandating the optimization of task forces to find missing relatives and arrest perpetrators.
I remember seeing the news about Rhonda Jones, Christina Bennett, and Megan Oxendine three years ago. They were found in downtown Lumberton, NC with their bodies shoved in trash cans. There was a dark cloud over Robeson County. Rob Co, as we call it, is made up of a bunch of small towns. Everybody knows everybody, or there's only a few degrees of separation. The Native community is even more connected.
Abby Lynn Patterson went missing the same year as Christina Bennett, Rhonda Jones, and Megan Oxendine. Her photo is below.
When these kind of tragedies happen in our communities, we call each other and talk about it with our friends and families. "That's one of ours," we'll say if he, she, or they has one of the common last names or they're known to be Native. On the East Coast we have a bunch of Richardson's, Oxendine's, Jones's, Locklear's, Jacobs's, Brayboy's, Chavis's, Britts, Carter's, Mitchell's, and so many more. If you know, you know.
Faith Hedgepath, Haliwa-Saponi, was a University of Chapel Hill student. Her case has been unsolved for 8 years now. Justice for Faith.
Because some of our features and last names don't fit what an average American knows to be a Native American, we are frequently misidentified. Some of us have darker skin, and others have lighter skin. Even if the paper or the police report says something different, we know which ones are ours. We either went to church together, attended the same school at some point in time, or we know their mama n'dem.
The Urban Indian Health Institute released a study four years ago discussing the issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. The study includes statistics about the higher rates of violence against Indigenous women, and the misidentification of Indigenous women. However, the sample of the study does not include a number of tribal territories on the East Coast and rural communities. Researchers disclose difficulty in collecting data. The study mainly includes federally recognized tribes. A number of tribes on the East coast, including the eight of the nine tribes in North Carolina, do not have full federal recognition, meaning that they do not receive federal benefits, and subsequently are sometimes not included in Native American centered studies. Research also indicates a connection between pipeline expansion and increased violence against Indigenous women.
"Rezpect Our Water." Indigneous People's March 2019. Teko Photography.
Family members of victims, like Jane Jacobs, want to know who is keeping track of the cases in North Carolina? In the same interview with Public News Service, she says that evidence goes missing. Several advocates have made efforts to create databases to mitigate the lack of Missing Indigenous Persons included National Missing Persons Database.
The movement could benefit from some consolidation and combining of resources. Every tribe is different, and faces their own set backs in tackling this issue. Having one database that encompasses all of the United States Missing and Murdered Indigenous peoples, would help us generate more accurate numbers.
There are quite a few organizations in the East that are beginning to address these disparities. Women AdvaNCe has dedicated a great deal of resources to telling the stories and raising awareness about the victims in North Carolina. Shatter the Silence mentioned in a previous blog is a support group for family members of victims of Missing and Murdered Indigenous People. FindANative.com run by Sandra Hope, Haliwa-Saponi, is a website that is designed to help form coalitions between and with Native advocates and promotes finding authentic Indigenous resources.
Sandra Hope, Haliwa-Saponi and founder of Find a Native.
We must remember the families of those who have lost someone. It is our duty as a community to make sure that they are taken care of. It is our way to look out for those how are suffering physically, spiritually, and emotionally. There are organizations launching projects to assist families grieving the loss of their loved ones.
There are women, men, and children, who were missing and have made it home physically, but their mind and their spirit is still elsewhere. They are often left alone to process deep traumas. Support groups and facilities can be created to help survivors readjust and heal. Through proper channels of support, society can help victims and their families to cope with their traumas.
Never blame the victims. It doesn’t matter if they were a drug addict, a sex worker, or stayed in an abusive relationship. Their life meant something. They were deprived of the opportunity to pursue their purpose. The crimes against them are only the fault of the perpetrators. We live in a society that has systematically and historically disadvantaged black and brown groups to live in poverty. Historical trauma has many of our Indigenous brothers and sisters disconnected from their spirit, leading to mental health problems or resorting to drugs to check out from their realities. These same systematic flaws cause some of our relatives to be lost in foster care systems, separated from their parents, and preyed upon by predators. Hold the perpetrators accountable.
Hania Aguilar went missing in November 2018. Her body was found two weeks later. Michael Ray McClellan has been charged with her rape and murder.
Crimes against Indigenous women, men, children, and 2-Spirit are crimes of opportunity. Perpetrators are aware of societal neglect. This movement is not about diminishing other victims of sex trafficking and kidnapping, it is simply to shining a light on a forgotten population, a people who have been pushed off to the side and ignored for the comfort of this nation. We are America’s biggest blemish, yet trendiest fetish.
But we are resilient people.
Native American people have survived genocide, assimilation, and we are denouncing historical erasure. As matriarchs return to reign, we will not be silenced, and we will not rest until our Missing and Murdered women, men, children and 2-Spirit are laid to rest, until all perpetrators are placed under arrest, and society’s humanity is put to the test.
The power of storytelling is that there is always at least one person, who has never heard the story. If you've told your loved one's story a thousand times, tell it again. Keep telling it so the audience can tell their friends. The story may prevent the harm and loss of another person. Keep their Memory.
"Between Worlds." Photo and edit by Gustavo Rodriguez.