The 2020 Utah Women’s March did not disappoint. It was inspirational to join the stream of women, men & children who dedicated a beautiful Saturday morning to honor and support women and the challenges we face — and overcome.
Speakers talked of inequality and reproductive rights. Organizations such as the Women’s Democratic Club, Planned Parenthood and presidential candidate supporters distributed information. And we wore red to honor Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW), the focus of this year’s March. I, like many others, carried red female cutouts emblazoned with the names of MMIW.
Indigenous women are murdered at 10 times the national average. Many cases are the direct result of extractive fossil fuel industries implanting “man camps” for transient industry workers located near Native American communities.
MMIW are largely not tracked. In fact, in 2016, the Urban Indian Health Institute found that only 116 out of 5,712 cases of MMIW reported in the United States were recorded in the Department of Justice’s federal missing persons database. This is incomprehensible.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranks homicide as the third-leading cause of death for Native American women under age 24. After digging a little deeper, I learned that this problem is widespread (Washington, Montana, Idaho, Utah, North Dakota, New Mexico and Canada) and that if the offender is non-Native, tribal police officers often lack the jurisdiction or resources to arrest or prosecute them. Imagine that your own daughter was raped or killed and no one is held responsible and you could do nothing about it.
I am not an expert on Native American history, nor am I Native myself, but I have a basic understanding. I ask, how is it possible that we (white/European settlers) forced Native Americans off the land they had lived on long before we arrived, killing many in the process and forced them to live in remote areas (reservations) of our choosing, many of which still don’t have utilities, roads or addresses in 2020? But “we” can enter the reservation and abduct or kill them without punishment. How is that possible in 2020? Or ever?
I wonder if many, or maybe most, privileged white folks (like myself) even know what atrocities are occurring right outside of their own circles. The MMIW rarely make the national or local news.
Could any mother hear about another’s child being abducted, raped or killed and not be enraged? Could any man, regardless of race or ethnicity, remain complacent when his co-worker’s sister was attacked walking home from the grocery store, just because she is Native American? Could any decent human being not be moved to action, knowing that there are no repercussions for a non-Native man to assault or kill a Native American woman if on the reservation?
Undoubtedly, a Native American, or other minority, man would be swiftly and severely punished if the situation were reversed.
Thankfully, some progress is being made at local and national levels. A new bill proposed by Utah state Rep. Angela Romero would form a task force to look into the issue if passed by lawmakers and signed by the governor in the upcoming legislative session. In the U.S. Senate, S 227 would direct the attorney general to review, revise and develop law enforcement and justice protocols appropriate to address missing and murdered Indians, and for other purposes.
Clearly, this is not enough. We are all human and we all matter. More information can be found about MMIW through a simple online search, including the Facebook Page MMIW+ of Utah, and the Indigenous Ally Toolkit. Let’s stand up for each other. We are better than this, aren’t we?
Beth Haynes is a Utah resident who is highly concerned about the issues of injustice and inequality that are affecting and dividing our communities and our country.