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by Dylan Kristine
There is nothing on the road in and out of the Pine Ridge Reservation in the southern part of South Dakota. Well, nothing alive, except for a few scattered wild animals and cows that seem inextricably far from any sort of home. Whenever I hear another story of an abducted or murdered Indigenous women, I always think of that road. I imagine how endless her fear must be, knowing that the terrain surrounding her is both stunning and unforgiving. The endless tan rock formations that seem beautiful from the comfort and safety of my car window, but must take on a devastating lethality when viewed through desperate and frightened eyes.
That’s if she manages to escape.
And if she manages to escape while still on the reservation. Most violence against Indigenous women is committed by non-indigenous perpetrators, so who knows where she could end up. In a different town, a different state. A place that she has never seen before with people who will most likely look right through her. Indigenous women are murdered at a rate ten times higherthan the national average, but the broader society continues to look away from the tragedy. Or look beyond it to see only their own fictionalized and stereotypical assumptions of what Indigenous life must look like.
If I asked white society to name a famous Indigenous person, I would bet that most people would either name Pocahontas or someone ‘present’ at the accepted version of the first Thanksgiving. Maybe they would name a slightly more recent historical figure like Chief Sitting Bull or Crazy Horse, but only if they paid above average attention in history class. I feel confident assuming that no one would be able to name a figure from the past one hundred years.
It’s simply as if more recent time doesn’t exist. White society spent hundreds of years stealing land and now we have stolen their history. Yes, we. All of us who think of Indigenous history and see it through the reflective glass of a museum case. All of us who casually use the names of places, forgetting that they were never ours to name. All of us who don’t probe the narratives of American history starring glamorized characters who supposedly embraced white culture because it helps to assuage any of our residual guilt.
A few weeks ago, the Senate passed a resolution marking May 5th as the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. While attention paid to this critical issue is important, it does seem like an act that is both insensitive and lackluster. Through colonization and genocide, the United States Government created the reservation system and some of the most serious epidemics that plague those who live there. How do we not see that hundreds of years of dehumanization and disregard have direct ties to the rampant levels of violence inflicted on Indigenous women and men. How do we not see that so many years of a discriminatory and unfair justice system had led to perpetrators acting with impunity? Yet, they want to mark a day, maybe pass a bill or two that look good for their reelection campaigns, and then assume that their job is done.
Ignoring the present day experiences and struggles of the modern Indigenous communities in America ends today. And it is going to take all of our efforts to start changing this centuries long tragedy of injustice and willful ignorance.
Start today. Wear red in support of those who are missing and murdered.
Tomorrow the work begins.
Learn. As white society, our perception of history is skewed. Work on filling the gaps and correct imperception. As uncomfortable as it may be, we cannot correct the past while not properly acknowledging it.
Listen. White society does not know what is best for Indigenous communities. Stop deflecting, explaining or lecturing. There are plenty of powerful Indigenous voices, find them and start listening.
Donate. The National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center and the Indigenous-centered violence hotline, Stronghearts are doing incredible work with victims and their families. Help support their mission in honor of the Missing and the Murdered.
Engage. Allies have a responsibility to help change, not only their own minds, but also the minds of others. Once you can recognize the ingrained false narratives and societal ideas, you can helps others see the truth as well.
We cannot rectify and change hundreds of years of mistreatment in one day or with one action. Unlearning racism will be a project, just as allyship is a verb. But we owe it to our Indigenous sisters and neighbors. Today, start with standing up and remembering the women and children who have been victims of this cascade of violence.