Rallies, walks, task forces, songs and billboards, conventions and commissions across the the US and Canada have convened to bring attention to missing and murdered indigenous women and children but the refrain, “What are you talking about?” remains common outside indigenous communities. It’s still out of sight, out of mind; mirroring the intention of putting indigenous people on reservations in the first place.
The average American has forgotten Native Americans are alive and well, and not all living on reservations. There is no mental connection to them, never mind an empathic one. In their own bubble of existence, most Americans have created another, separate one for indigenous populations. To the isolated American, things outside that bubble do not exist and, if perchance they are noticed, they have no effect on said American, so that experience or their existence does not matter, has no value.
Mass graves, cartels, government corruption and law enforcement collusion with drug dealers, sex traffickers and murderers occur elsewhere; Mexico, Africa, Central and South America–those places that have those problems. That Mormon dual citizens were killed in a mass execution in Mexico still is there, across the invisible borderline of attention. Mass graves are things that occur in countries where lawlessness rules the day and we are the country of ‘rule of law’. Many will be shocked to learn that there are mass and individual graves related to this single sexual slavery network across Washington, Oregon, Wyoming, Arizona, Missouri, Idaho, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Colorado and more including across Canada–if, if, any of this ever reaches mass media. Non-profit organizations in the US whose rescue work related to sex trafficking have their headquarters and fundraising base here but do their on-the-ground work elsewhere because our law enforcement is equipped, capable and non-corrupted, not like there. How will people wrap their heads around the notion that not only is law enforcement in direct collusion with narcos and slave traders across multiple tribal districts, sheriff’s departments, state highway patrols, and federal law enforcement but actively participates in the disappearance of young people ? Or, will people choose to bury their heads further into isolation?
The phenomenon of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women also exists within the lens of history that most Americans do not know. While many people have at least heard of the forced removal policies that created the reservations, most do not know that the United States government officially continued through the 20th century to eliminate the “Indian problem”–essentially to either assimilate their populations into white communities or eliminate entire reservations.
Thirty years after the 1928 Meriam Report (or The Problem of Indian Administration), in which researchers laid the blame for the government’s Indian Problem “squarely at the feet of the federal officials whose policies ‘would tend to pauperize any race‘” the Bureau of Indian Affairs, attempted a voluntary relocation program making the same types of promises to individuals that they did in the 1800s to tribes; jobs, opportunity, and social services support. What wasn’t shared was that the man orchestrating the program was the one who led the forced relocation of Japanese-Americans into internment camps (sit with that for about 10 seconds) and, that, yet again, the government was often lying. It also wasn’t publicly shared that the foundation of the policy was to eliminate reservations, dissolve treaties and dismantle tribal governments (that Congress began in 1953), the “disappearance of Indians by intermarriage with non-Indians” and turn them into “white and delightsome people”, and the access to ground-based resources in Indian territories. (There’s much more about this here.)
In addition, those who have been on the receiving end of the government’s eradication efforts and the general population’s racism, have by necessity, needed to entrench and protect what little remains to call their own–space, ritual and relationships; often creating more isolation, even within communities and families.
I watch again and again as efforts at creating awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (and others) go unheard outside of social media and read of legislators ‘commitment’ to ‘look at’ MMIW through task forces and additional layers of bureaucracy, I look back into history and believe it will be repeated–again. I see no future for federal or state legislation through institutional bodies that have designed for hundreds of years to eradicate a race, funds less than 1/3 of indigenous language preservation programs, chooses not to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, and still repeatedly tries to take treaty lands. I also don’t see that occurring in tribal governments with leadership directly and personally benefitting from sex trafficking in their casinos. Although Sergio González Rodriguez’s The Femicide Machine is focused on the systemic murder and disappearance of women and girls in Juarez, Mexico, there is a line that stands out as being relevant here: “Her identity is predestined not to exist.”
There’s a line I use when I don’t want engage with problems that cross my path; “Not my circus, not my monkeys.” I wonder how many others use that line when #MMIW and empty red dresses cross their own paths. How many think it’s just another “Indian Problem”?