The above is an example of imagery used by groups and individuals who want to create more awareness around the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women phenomenon. Here Senator Klobuchar poses for holding a poster presumably in support of a non-profits work in ‘bringing awareness’ to the larger population about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.
The red hand across the mouth has morphed from a heartfelt plea to a series of mass-marketed t-shirts. Perhaps, in part, the imagery itself lended inspiration for the fits of federal legislation that will compete for funding while Senators continue to insist that ‘[white] men’s human rights will be violated if they happen to get charged with domestic violence or rape on a reservation’. Perhaps.
However, this red hand over a woman’s mouth is a symbol of the disappeared’s voices behind silenced.
They have voices. I hear them. Loudly, repeatedly. They have shown their faces and where their bones lie; burnt, buried or bound by the weight of water.
There are pages throughout Facebook dedicated to spreading awareness that repeatedly use the phrase “see something, say something” knowing there is nothing happening within the dynamic of violence against anyone in small communities in a vacuum. Everyone knows something.
It’s not the dead who don’t speak. They speak and the winds carry their voices; their pleas, prayers and the repeated, “Please. I want to come home.”
It’s the living who refuse to say something when they see something or to listen when the voices land in the heart that can hear them. It’s the medicine men, storytellers, activists and Elders who share with the community their Gifts but participate in the storage and distribution of young people who will be sold to the highest bidder to be sold again and again for what’s between their legs.
It’s the nuns at St. Pete’s who feel like they’re trapped between the metaphoric rock of fear and the hard place of speaking the truth. They’re no different the those in the Catholic Church who ignored priests raping children elsewhere. Here, though, they’ll keep the secret even longer while teaching all about faith in a God and God’s love. Preach the love to those whom they will harm by keeping their cloistered mouths shut.
It’s the cops, housekeepers, bartenders, dealers and security teams who watch sixteen year old girls being escorted up to the rooms and walked down with black or deadened eyes, while laughing it up with madams on the gaming floor.
It’s the tribal councilperson who’s getting a paltry kick-back to ignore the passage of people through his district. It’s the neighbors who know exactly what is going on across the road but won’t say anything.
It’s the casino management teams focused on padding the bottom line and ignoring the forced prostitution of traffickers while escorting independent women offering their services by choice off premises.
It’s the family or community members who know who is being sold to make a car payment or buy meth. It’s the church members who will slut shame a girl but celebrate the father who brought that expression to bear. While knowing.
It’s the teams of young men who coordinate social media messaging campaigns to entice vulnerable young women. It’s the young women who work with them to slip the drugs in the drink when they meet those ‘friends’. It’s tribal therapist who knows the broker and the sister who knows the one with the ring. It’s the mother and cousins who know what the father/teacher/preacher/uncle is doing but do nothing.
It’s the activists who will holler about saving the Mother (Earth) but ignoring those on the rez who deal in little girls’ vaginas in the same way they do meth.
It’s the cops who get their piece of the action and pie by ensuring the disappeared remain that way along the interstate highways and remote byways of the country. It’s those that will think they’re secretly saying, “Someone’s telling Ingrid way too much” and rather than ask what is being told to me will surveil me instead.
It’s the tribal leaders who ignore the calls of the dead and the woman who speaks for them. Afraid of what she might have to say or, perhaps, their own direct roles and complacency being brought to light?
It’s the teachers at the boarding schools who want to mind their own business and the neighbors who know all the business but keep their mouths shut.
It’s the Senators who don’t find it sexy enough to fight for or too hard on White offenders to fund. It’s those who as part of deal-making in their districts open the way with fanfare for trafficking to move openly (it’s supports the economy, you know) and enjoy their own little piece of the pie. It’s the consultants who sit on the freshly bloomed boards of directors who pad their prestige on top of the table and under it, appease the traffickers smiling.
Rosalie Fish, a Cowlitz teen who painted her face while running in the 2019 Washington State 1B track and field championships said, ‘You can’t not talk about it in native communities,” Fish said. “It’s just kind of unavoidable because you wonder what happened to this person. Why don’t I see them around anymore?”
Yet, in all the talking, no one says a thing.
More awareness isn’t needed to speak the truth. Stepping out of the veil of hypocrisy is.
The victims, those disappeared at the hands of another or many others, are not the ones with hands over their mouths. They may be buried on the side of the road on Pine Ridge and laying at the bottom of a lake on Wind River but they have voices. Why is it that no one will listen to what they have to say?
The complacent and complicit ones, living and breathing and sleeping with secrets, who have their own hands on their mouths.
If you have the courage to finally say something, you can do so anonymously by sending me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org