Content Warning: this article discusses and mentions rape, violence, murder, genocide, and settler colonialism in relation to the missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and Two-Spirit people
May 5th is a day to honour and remember Hanna Harris and the thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and Two-Spirit people in North America.
On July 4, 2013, 21-year-old Hanna Harris went missing from the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation in Montana, USA. Local police gave little weight to her disappearance when it was reported. But a search team found her body four days later, confirming that Hanna had been raped and murdered. In 2018, her birthday on May 5th was designated as the ‘National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls’.
Unfortunately, Hanna’s horrifying experience was not an isolated experience. For decades, thousands of Indigenous women, girls and Two-Spirit people in Canada and the United States have experienced extreme gender-based violence, abduction and murder. This violence is not an isolated anomaly either. This unchecked gender-based violence is rooted in the historical and ongoing colonial violence against Indigenous people in North America.
The senseless violence experienced by these Indigenous women and gender-diverse people is an epidemic that has largely been ignored, silenced and unrecognised within Canada, the United States, and around the world. But this is quickly changing.
The National Day of Awareness for the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirit people (MMIWG2S) is a call for action, a demand for justice and a day to honour those that this violence has impacted. At TNF, we want to take today, May 5th, to shed light on the tragedy of the MMIWG2S epidemic and amplify Indigenous voices that are sharing their stories.
Our role as non-Indigenous feminists must be to support Indigenous women and Two-Spirit people, educate ourselves on their stories and experiences, and decolonise our feminism.
The lack of awareness about this epidemic is primarily due to this crisis’s underreported and under-investigated nature. Even without exact numbers, we cannot deny the scale of this violence and the vulnerability of Indigenous women and gender-diverse people.
The numbers paint an appalling and disturbing picture. In a country where they make up only about 4% of the national population, 25% of Canadian female homicide victims are Indigenous women. In the United States, one in three Indigenous women are sexually assaulted, mostly by non-Indigenous perpetrators. If you are an Indigenous woman in the United States, you are two and a half times more likely to be killed than if you were non-Indigenous. In Canada, you would be six times more likely to be murdered. In the Canadian territory of Yukon or the province of Saskatchewan, this likelihood rises to 12 times higher. When a case is reported and investigated, the rate of charges brought against a known perpetrator is 30% lower than the rate for non-Indigenous victims. And an investigation is not a given: in the past 30 years, it is believed that at least 4,000 Indigenous women, girls and Two-Spirit people have gone missing or have been murdered in Canada. At least half of these murder cases remain unsolved.
This horrifying violence begs the question: why are Indigenous women and Two-spirit people being targeted, and what causes the silence around this crisis?
The brutality and violence against Indigenous women and gender-diverse people are intricately linked with the greater history of violence, settler colonialism and genocide against Indigenous people in North America.
The MMIWG2S epidemic is, at its core, a deliberate gender-based genocide that is part of the ongoing colonial violence Indigenous people face. The governments, justice systems and police enforcement are responsible for inflicting genocidal practices on Indigenous communities, and they continue to be complicit in exacerbating the violence of this epidemic. They have hugely failed Indigenous communities, women and Two-Spirit people through their complacency, police brutality, and failure to investigate these violent acts.
Part of this systemic failure to act extends to the mainstream media. The MMIWG2S epidemic, and greater themes of violence against Indigenous people, are underreported in mainstream news and media. When stories are published, the narratives do not challenge the systems that maintain this ongoing violence, nor do they hold the government or police accountable. The narratives do not examine the racism, misogyny and queerphobia that fuel the sexualised stereotypes, the dehumanisation or the fetishisation of Indigenous women and Two-Spirit people. These are all tools of settler colonialism that only serve to make perpetrators feel justified in committing these violent acts. This ignorance absolutely needs to be challenged and fought.
Luckily, through the rise of many social media platforms, incredible Indigenous creators are able to counter these narratives and the lack of awareness by sharing their stories online.
The fight for awareness and justice for MMIWG2S is an Indigenous grassroots movement that is by no means new. But, online tools and platforms have raised awareness of the epidemic beyond the limited representation in mainstream media. More than that, these creators share the liveliness of their cultures, their communities and histories, and their fight for justice and self-determination.
Here are just 5 Indigenous women and Two-Spirit creators, among many, that you can follow today:
Vanessa is an Inuk artist who creates art and jewellery as a part of her healing process. Her sister, who has been missing for almost 20 years, inspires her art and her content to honour all those impacted by the violence of the MMIWG2S epidemic.
Check out these hashtags: #stolensisters #reddressday #mmiwg2s
Kairyn is a Two-Spirit creator from the Nakota Sioux Nation. He shares his experience and ensures that Two-Spirit people are not left out of the conversation around the violence that Indigenous women and gender-diverse and non-binary people experience.
Tia is a Plains Cree & Salish creator who makes comedic, educational and cultural content by showcasing dance, her cultural clothing and her singing voice. She also creates content to shed light on the MMIWG2S epidemic, Residential Schools, #CancelCanadaDay, and the ongoing genocide against Indigenous people.
Shina is an Inuk creator and a Katajjaq throat singer. Often joined by her mother, Shina creates content celebrating her Inuk cultural practices, foods and stories that were once forbidden.
Geo Soctomah Neptune
Geo Soctomah is a Passamaquoddy and Two-Spirit master basket weaver, model and drag performer. They teach basket weaving to Passamaquoddy and Wabanaki youth to promote the preservation of language and traditions for future generations. Their content combines basket-weaving, drag and Indigenous political activism.
Author Acknowledgement: I am a non-Indigenous white cis-woman. I come from Ottawa, Canada, which is located on the unceded, unsurrendered Territory of the Anishinaabe Algonquin Nation.