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April 15, 2022

Native American women face murder rates more than 10 times the national average

This wasn’t your typical Project Humanities conversation. It wasn’t hot or fuzzy, and no one walked away feeling tingly.

It covered emotionally difficult material for Native Americans and non-Natives alike, on the themes of murder, sexual violence, and the disappearance of Native women, girls, and women. two-spiritedTwo Spirits refers to a person who identifies as both masculine and feminine, and is used by some Indigenous peoples to describe their sexual, gender, and/or spiritual identity. people.

The US Department of Justice has found that Native American women face murder rates more than 10 times the national average. A report by the National Institute of Justice found that four out of five Aboriginal women have experienced violence in their lifetime, and more than half have experienced sexual violence. Despite the statistics, the extent of the problem remains unknown.

Therefore, it was a conversation that needed to take place, said Alycia de Mesaassociate director of Humanities Project.

“It is extremely important to provide platforms of support for Indigenous people to discuss the safety of Indigenous women, girls and Two-Spirit people in this country,” said de Mesa. “Through Indigenous women and advocates sharing underlying issues, justice advocacy work, and policy-making in Arizona and beyond, Project Humanities is playing a small role in collectively creating a greater raising awareness and amplifying the voices of Indigenous defenders and those who have suffered the traumatic losses and effects of violence”.

“Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirit” was the title of Project Humanities’ April 12 live stream event and panel discussion.

Panelists included April Ignacio (Tohono O’odham), Indigenous activist and founder of Indivisible Tohono; Bianca Banuelos (Xicana), who is enrolled in ASU’s master’s program in Native American/Indigenous Studies; Diane Enos (Onk Akimel O’odham), tribal council representative, former president of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, and lawyer; and Valaura Imus-Nahsonhoya (Hopi), who works with tribal communities to address historical trauma and trauma-informed practices. Ignacio and Imus-Nahsonhoya worked with the State Review Committee on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. De Mesa facilitated the event and moderated the conversation.

The intergenerational panel examined issues such as: the historic trauma of Indigenous women; the impact of colonialism; the law enforcement response to missing Aboriginal women; the tribal justice system; collect vital statistics; media response; and information sharing between tribal nations.

The panelists were (top row, left to right) Alycia de Mesa associate director and moderator of the Humanities project; Bianca Banuelos, ASU graduate student in Native American/Native American studies; April Ignacio, member of Tohono O’odham and member of the Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women and Girls Study Committee; (bottom row, left to right) Valaura Imus-Nahsonhoya, Hopi Member and Former Tribal Liaison/Study Coordinator for the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, Men and Boys Study; Diane Enos, former President of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community and member of the Akimel O’odham Tribe.

According to a report from the Centers for Disease Controlmurder is the third leading cause of death for Aboriginal women and girls aged 1 to 19. A CDC study found Homicide rate for Native Americans women were almost three times that of non-Hispanic white women.

This type of violence has been going on for centuries, according to Enos.

“Violence against Native women dates back to the 1500s and to Spanish and American missionaries during the Gold Rush,” said Enos, who identifies as two spirits, was the first member of the Salt River Indian community. to become a lawyer and the second elected woman. as tribal president. “There’s a lot of history there, and the violence hasn’t just been directed at us, but at two-spirit people as well.”

Imus-Nahsohoya, founder of Honwungsi Consulting Services and employee of the National Criminal Justice Training Center at Fox Valley Technical College of the Bureau for Victims of Crime, Bureau of Justice Programs and the U.S. Department of Justice, said she was wearing this intergenerational trauma with her when she was advocating for victims of crime.

“One of the lessons is how do we carry this intergenerational trauma with us, and what are we going to do to end this trauma?” she says. “We need to find proactive methods and provide these opportunities and resources so that our next generation is underplayed by these experiences.”

Ignacio, who is chair of the Arizona State Democratic Party’s Native American Caucus, said the current missing and murdered Native women’s movement dates back to the 1970s in Canada and has spread to the United States.

“It’s new, but it’s not new,” she said. “I think we’re at this point where a lot of our tribal communities are starting to relate to how colonialism impacted us holistically.”

She went on to say that “90% of the cases we see in our tribal courts are domestic violence cases, and some of these women lose their lives to violence from their partner or someone they know. ‘they know”.

The movement has also headed to southern Mexico according to Banuelos, whose research and activism centers on this topic.

“Mexico has a huge problem with femicide, and it’s been going on since colonization (by the Spaniards),” she said. “Another layer of the problem in Mexico is that in all of their femicide issues, they don’t distinguish between an indigenous woman and a non-indigenous woman. Until recently last year, researchers struggled to access numerous death certificates. They do the research themselves and talk to the families to determine if these women belong to an Aboriginal group.

Banuelos added that many databases in the United States are also inferior in this regard and do not contain information to properly identify indigenous women in Mexico.

In Arizona it was reported that only 1 in 3 murders of Native Americans are reported to the FBI, the second worst rate in the nation.

But there is hope, said Imus-Nahsonhoya, who served on the committee studying a recent bill on missing and murdered Native women and girls in Arizona.

Imus-Nahsonhoya said Indigenous women are not only raising their voices with the public, but also knocking on the doors of lawmakers. In 2019, Arizona Bill 2570 and an associated study committee was formed to focus on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in the state. Presented by Representative Jennifer Jermaine (a registered member of White Earth Nation), the findings of the study committee’s report were completed and released to Governor Doug Ducey and state legislators. From 2022, the new State Senate Bill 1215 established a Committee to Study Missing and Murdered Native Peoples, expanding gender and age to include all Arizona Natives.

While HB2570 is complete, Senate Bill 1215 continues through the legislative processes and, when passed, will seek to continue HB2570’s focus on reducing and ending violence against Indigenous peoples in the State by establishing monitoring and data collection methods; examine policies, practices and trends in the prosecution of gender-based violence; identify more state resources; and ensuring access to victims of violence.

Ignacio, who also served on the study committee for HB2570, said the results were both heartbreaking and promising.

However, Ignacio said these bills have the support of Arizona’s 22 federally recognized tribes and that legislative leaders have the will to do something about it.

“A lot of good people try to bring this issue to the fore, and there are also a lot of (indigenous) people who come out of their lives to see how we raise our children and raise our men,” she said. “I’m not worried because there are a lot of young people getting into it, like Bianca here. … As long as there are people who still care, everything will be fine.

A Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples awareness event will take place in the Arizona state capitol from 2-8 p.m. on May 5.


The National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673.
Strong Hearts Helpline: 1-844-7NATIVE.
National Resource Center for Indigenous Women.
MMIW Toolbox for families and communities.
Coalition to End Violence Against Indigenous Women.
Sovereign Organs Institute.

Top photo courtesy of iStock/Getty images

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