Over 90% of indigenous women have experienced violence in their lifetime. 86% of those women were sexually assaulted by a non-tribal member. Although Native Americans make up a mere 1% of the total population (United States Cong. Savanna’s Act), the US Department of Justice estimates that Native women experience this kind of violence at almost a 50% higher rate than the next most victimized ethnic group. What causes such a surfeit of numbers? The Doctrine of Discovery and the drive to civilize the Indigenous people of the Americas. The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Epidemic stems from marginalizing Indigenous women in this nation’s founding and perpetuated in modern legislature throughout the US and Canada.
Historically, the erasure of native culture and identity began with the arrival of colonizers. As the United States developed, so did a national heritage that helped rationalize the dispossession and conquest of indigenous people. It is widely acknowledged that European/US colonizers forcibly relocated many Indigenous people from their land, but it is commonly denied that these same people committed widespread atrocities in the process. Massive scale slaughtering, murdering, raping of the land and disease as well as starvation, devastated the Indigenous peoples of North America (Maze of Injustice).
Thus creating a compartmentalized idea of what a ‘real’ native looks like. Dual portrayals of the good Indian, commonly those who help Europeans and strive to be like them, and the bad Indian, those who resist assimilation and neglect christianity. Indigenous people are displayed as either a nostalgic vanishing, brave warrior; a romantic Cherokee princess, or an ignoble image of brutality and degradation. Such representations distract from the realities of tribal nations, struggling to maintain their populations, lands, resources, and sovereignty and create an environment where sexual violence becomes a tool of conquest (Maze of Injustice). The effects of these abuses echo throughout modern society and popular culture. For example, in 1989, the development of a video game called ‘Custer’s Revenge’ had an objective where the player manipulated the character of general Custer to have intercourse with a Native woman who was tied to a wooden post.
The delusive censorship of diverse native culture, ideals and governmental systems that flourished before contact can most commonly be seen in schools and the roots of modern-day American government. The continuous genocide of native culture and identity shines through within the nations very own Declaration of Independence where three damaging words set the tone for the viewing of natives nationwide: “merciless Indian Savages.” A lack of positive representation in schools and in the media leads to normalizing harmful and misleading racial slurs, a lack of cultural knowledge and stereotyping. Some of the only representation of Native people in schools are sports mascots: the Atlanta Braves, Chicago Blackhawks, Cleveland Indians, Edmonton Eskimos, Kansas City Chiefs, Washington Redskins are common examples. In January of 2014, the Nimiipuu Tribal Executive Committee sent a letter to the Sacajawea Junior High Braves in Lewiston, Idaho and the Nez Perce High School Indians asking that their mascots be changed. Both of the schools will gather public opinion polls before making a final decision (Robertson). The university of North dakota refused to change their ‘fighting sioux’ mascot despite the racialized sexual discourse and negative feedback from Sioux tribes. An example of the disrespect and violence nagive mascots can perpetuate are students from U of ND wearing shirts depicting a sioux caricature have sexual relations with a bison (Maze of Injustice).
Current legislation accredited with relocating many tribal communities results in the remoteness of reservations, along with a multitude of similar ill-faceted situations. Not only have many ethnic groups been taken away from their ancestral homelands but many tribal citizens have also been moved to major urban centers such as Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. Over 50% of shitsu’umsh (Coeur d’Alene) tribal members live off the reservation (Coeur d’Alene Tribal Department of Enrollment 2018-2019). These numbers are very common throughout the United States and Canada with some communities having upwards of 70% of enrolled members living off the reservation (Logan). The lack of community support and resources readily available to create a strong indigenous identity isolates these people and robs them of a feeling of belonging from both their culture and their urban surroundings. An absence of relation to place consequently results in a loss of oneness with the world around them and exposes them to high levels of vulnerability to many forms of violence including epistemic violence (Cunneen and Tauri). Many pathways to violence exist to both urban native’s and native’s that live on a reservation. In 1968 a federal appellate court decision upheld a statute in which a Native man who committed rape on a reservation recieved a lesser sentence if the victim was a Native woman. By passing this law, many suggest that Congress viewed the rape of Native women as more moral than that of a European woman and therefore Native women were less qualified for legal protection and justice (Maze of Injustice). Although this law was passed, the implementation was most likely lesser due to the fact that today, more than 90% of sexual violence crimes on reservation, the perpetrator is non-native (US Department of Justice).
Due to the historic relationship between Native American’s and the federal government, Native Americans generally distrust federal and state justice systems. Yet another example of violence towards Native women was between 1972 and 1976 where thousands of Indigenous women were forcibly sterilized without consent and medical necessity. Some women reported to be coerced or blackmailed and told their children would be taken away if they refused to consent to the sterilization This federal sterilization program violated their basic human rights and international law to bodily autonomy (The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples). Today, the United State’s government expresses little to no acknowledgement of such vicious and blatent acts of genocide while also providing no reparation to victims. Such abuses support a common thread through Indigenous communities in North America and add to the already prevalent intergenerational trauma, otherwise known as multigenerational trauma.