It’s a huge worry for families when someone goes missing. It’s even more tragic when a loved one is murdered. Sadly, for Native American women, the chance of becoming a victim of murder are ten times higher than any other ethnic group. They are also two times more likely than white American females to be raped.
When it comes to Native American women becoming another murder statistic or when reported missing, the public outcry and empathy are somewhat lacking. What has led to the lack of compassion displayed towards this group of Americans? Are there any changes to get the voices of these Indigenous women heard?
Depersonalizing A Race
When a group of people are considered as something less than human, then it’s easier to manipulate and abuse them. Colonialization saw Native Americans being labeled as savages. People portrayed them as a group who needed to be educated and shown the right way – which was the way of the white man.
Women were taken into slavery, abused violently and sexually by those they “served”. Children were removed from their families and lands. Their cultural identity was stripped away. They were taught how to “assimilate” into colonial society. English and the European lifestyles were to be adhered to.
With this overarching view of Native Americans being less than “civilized”, who, apart from their own people, would show any sympathy if one of the females is murdered or goes missing?
Media’s View Of Native Americans
The oppression of Native Americans has had a devastating effect on the community as a whole. The loss of identity and lands have resulted in this group of American society being over-represented in the wrong statistics: incarceration rate, suicides, alcohol abuse, victims of rape, and murder victims.
When there are reports of a Native American female having been murdered or going missing, the words and angles used in the stories portray the victim in a negative light (as compared to similar news stories about white Americans).
A report by the Urban Indian Health Institute looked at the situation of missing and murdered Native Americans in Wyoming. Regarding media coverage of these incidents, it was found that there was a negative bias towards Native Americans. White victims were perceived in more of a positive light, including their traits, family, and community.
It seems like the media upholds a negative stereotype of Indigenous people. Typically, the view is that this community is lazy and abusers of both alcohol and drugs. Regarding the issue of murdered and missing Native American women, Nativehope.org touches upon research regarding the historical view of these females:
“In Andrea Smith’s paper, ‘Not an Indian Tradition: The Sexual Colonization of Native Peoples,’ she explores the connection between sexual violence and colonialism on the lives of Native people in the United States. Smith reveals that Natives were viewed as ‘dirty’ for their lack of clothing, which in the minds of the colonists made them ‘polluted with sexual sin.’ They were seen as less-than-human—therefore, ‘rapable.’
With this perception of Native Americans, it could be that the general view is that they reap what they sow when it comes to becoming a victim. Such an attitude shows a complete lack of understanding towards these women, as well as compassion.
Regarding investigating the cases, law enforcement agencies show little interest. Native Hope has this to say:
“Now, when a Native woman is reported missing, these negative stereotypes hinder the search process. Law enforcement tends to turn a blind eye, fail to take the report seriously, and do little to assist. The media rarely picks up on the story and if they do, there is normally a negative spin on the story making the victim seem at fault.”
This is an all-too-common theme around the issue.
In relation to missing Native Americans, one issue can be that of human trafficking. Victims can be lured by a perpetrator using promises such as the provision of drugs (for those females who suffer from substance abuse), or a place to reside (for those who are homeless).
Again, authorities do little to resolve the case, preferring to brush it off as the girls just doing their thing (the implication being sex for drugs). These females are vulnerable due to governmental agencies that have consistently failed them.
The MMIW Movement
Born out of frustration over a system that shows prejudice towards Native American females, the MMIW movement arose. It seeks to educate the general public that the voices of these murdered and missing women have been ignored for far too long.
The movement addresses the negative stereotypes from the media regarding these victims. Also, it is pushing for legislative change that ensures Native American females are protected from violence and predatory behaviors.
Social media has played a major part in giving the MMIW victims the recognition they rightly deserve. Slowly people are starting to take notice and saying, “enough is enough”.
Change is happening both concerning the cooperation of law enforcement agencies and legislation at a government level. That offers a beacon of hope for the future.
When a female is murdered or goes missing, that should be a concern for everyone. It doesn’t matter if they are Native American, Hispanic, Asian, Black, White, etc. We all share a common humanity and should offer compassion and help for anyone suffering.
Here at Sunrise Native Recovery, we’re adamant about helping the Native American community live better, safer lives. Whether it’s a substance abuse problem, a mental health problem, or both, we’re here to help people recover and create a life that serves them well. If you or a loved one is struggled with addiction, give us a call today and let us help you get on the path toward recovery.
We believe in you and we’re here for you.