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MMIWG2S Advocacy in Action: Sisters in Spirit Day, October 4th

By Tia-Alexi Roberts (Narragansett, Cultural Survival Staff)

Photo: Dulcey Lima

As the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirit movement continues to influence the landscape of Indian Country, a growing number of individuals are actively seeking ways to support this crucial aspect of Indigenous Peoples’ rights. In a historic milestone achieved in 2017, the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Girls and Women's movement successfully established an international awareness day for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, now observed annually on May 5.

October 4, also known as Sisters in Spirit Day, has been deemed a National Day of Action for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada. The day was first recognized in 2017 by the government of Manitoba to recognize and honor the victims of MMIWG2S.

Indigenous rights advocates have employed diverse strategies to raise awareness about Missing and Murdered Indigenous girls, women, and Two-Spirit individuals. These approaches include educational initiatives, data collection, public speaking engagements, collaborations with law enforcement agencies, interactions with media outlets, organization of marches, and the creation of impactful social media campaigns.

October 4 holds profound significance due to the murders, disappearances, and structural violence that continue to afflict these communities. It serves as a Day of Action in the continued battle against the MMIW epidemic and a commitment to addressing the pressing issues faced by Indigenous women, girls, and Two-Spirits.

The Epidemic of Homicide

According to the Center for Disease Control, suicide and homicide are the second and third leading causes of death in the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Girls, Women and Two-Spirit crisis. In 2016, the Urban Indian Health Institute, a Tribal epidemiology center, conducted a survey across 71 urban areas revealing fatal trends concerning American Indian and Alaskan Native women and girls.

Despite a data crisis around this issue, the Institute identified a total of 506 cases of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Girls, Women, and Two-Spirits. Among these, 280 were categorized as homicides, 128 were missing persons cases, and 96 cases were attached to a range of issues including sexual assault, domestic violence, police misconduct, and concerns regarding the safety and well being of sex workers. These findings emphasize the pressing need for dedicated efforts, advocacy, and solutions to address the complex challenges faced by Indigenous women and girls living in urban environments.

Indigenous Women Missing and with Unresolved Status

In 2016, according to data compiled by the U.S. Department of Justice, a total of 5,712 cases involving missing American and Alaska Native American women, girls, and Two-Spirits were reported to the Department of Justice's federal missing persons database. Of these, only 116 were logged into the database.

In 2017, the Urban Indian Health Institute embarked on a groundbreaking study to assess and identify the cause for the alarming gap between the number of cases reported and those that were actually logged and investigated.

Structural Violence

Structural violence, which refers to the political, economical, religious, or cultural conditions that prevent individuals and societies from reaching their full potential, is a major contributing factor to the crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Girls, Women, and Two-Spirits.

One form of structural violence is the frequent breakdown in communication between investigative and enforcement entities such as the FBI and Tribal authorities, which hinders effective collaboration and response efforts. The absence of critical resources on Tribal lands such as emergency services, Amber Alerts, counseling, and family support further amplifies the vulnerability of these communities.

Jurisdictional disputes involving federal, state, county, Tribal, and private entities are another form of structural violence affecting the safety and well-being of Indigenous girls, women, and Two-Spirits. The disconnect between state and Tribal communications adds additional layers of complexity to addressing the issues of implementing better emergency alert and tracking systems and other actions by law enforcement and the government.

What We Can Do

Law enforcement agencies, advocacy groups, and policymakers must work together to bridge the gap in reporting and resolution. This may involve the use of culturally sensitive approaches, such as respecting Indigenous Peoples’ Traditional Knowledge, initiating collaboration between law enforcement and Tribal authorities, and involving Native communities in policy development, to address the unique circumstances faced by American and Alaska Native American women and girls. Increased resources for education and prevention efforts within these communities are also needed.

Advocates across Indian Country have gotten creative with their advocacy for promoting awareness. Social media handles and hashtags such as #MMIW, #MMIWG, #MMIWG2S, #MMIWActionNow, and #NoMoreStolenSisters are an easy way to spread a message to a large audience from different places for Missing and Murdered Indigenous women, girls, and Two-Spirits, as is tagging Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland, in social media posts on this issue.

Beyond social media, there are many ways to contribute to amplifying the voice of this crucial movement. To get involved, consider joining and participating in events, making donations, or learning about the following organizations:

The National Day of Action for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls symbolizes not just a moment of recognition, but a sustained commitment to tackling the deeply rooted issues that continue to afflict Indigenous communities.

As we commemorate October 4, we acknowledge the struggles of Indigenous women, girls, and Two-Spirits, and reaffirm our dedication to fostering a future where their rights, safety, and well-being are prioritized and protected.

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