Native women and girls in the United States are twice as likely to be sexually assaulted compared to white women, and murder rates on certain reservations can be tenfold higher than the national average. This pervasive violence traces back to colonialism. Native women have historically been abused, exploited, and neglected by America’s institutions, and lasting prejudice against Native peoples endures.
The United States government has stripped tribal governments of their ability to seek justice for their women. The Major Crimes Act of 1885, Proclamation 280, and the Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe (1978) decision place responsibility for investigating and prosecuting violent crimes in Indian Country on federal and select state governments. This excludes tribal governments from much of the justice process and often leaves violent crimes against Native women unaddressed.
Stemming from a rich history of Indigenous feminist activism, the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) movement has emerged within the last decade. Fifty years ago, Indigenous women fought alongside men in the American Indian Movement (AIM), demanding the fulfillment of treaties, the restoration of tribal lands, and the acknowledgment of tribal sovereignty. Indigenous women also founded Women of All Red Nations, which buttressed much of AIM’s agenda and included more specific concerns, most notably the sterilization abuse of the 1970s.
The following decades saw a marked increase in activism against heightened rates of domestic violence within Native communities. Analyzing articles by Indigenous newspapers revealed that Native communities adopted much of the grassroots organizing of the previous decades to address this particular type of violence. The 2010s brought another shift in Indigenous feminist activism with the MMIWG movement.
Survivors, families of MMIWG, and their greater communities have raised awareness and demanded solutions to this national emergency. Federal and state governments have passed legislation to relax jurisdictional restrictions over tribal governments, centralize the data about this problem, and empower Indigenous communities to improve their law enforcement responses. But this does not address the root causes that have placed Native women in this precarious situation. By using alternative approaches to justice outside of Anglo-American carceral solutions, Indigenous communities can incorporate their traditions when healing this trauma.