Guest Commentary Published May 5, 2019
“I stand before you today, a full-blooded Native American woman, a Northern Arapaho/Hunkpapa Lakota. The statistics that hang over my head are these: I am among the most stalked, raped, murdered, sexually assaulted, and abused of any women in any ethnic group, and I am among those who suffer domestic violence 50 times higher than the national average.”
I use that statement to open my presentations on the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women (MMIW) crisis. I travel around Indian Country, as I have for years, to raise awareness and inform our people of the scale of the tragedy and, crucially, how to make a safer environment for their communities and families. I have done this work for over a decade, and when I committed to it the term “MMIW” had not been coined.
I am somebody who works with data, but Chairman Gerald Grey of the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council (RMTLC) recently made a statement that should resonate with us all, that speaks to more than numbers: “I choose not to quote statistics because our women and girls are human beings not statistics. This is mom. Auntie. Sister. Niece. Daughter. Cousin. And sometimes, grandma. We know the names of some of the victims, but study after study shows that MMIWG cases are underreported, so there are many, many names we do not and may never know.” This is personal. When we learn of another victim near or far, in our reservations communities we can relate on a deep, emotional level. We may not know the victim or their family, but we know the socio-economic conditions; we know the struggle.
Lynette Grey Bull is Senior Vice President of Global Indigenous Council and the founder of Not Our Native Daughters. In 2017, Lynette provided statistics and research on missing and exploited Native women and children for the UN World Conference on Indigenous Peoples. She previously served as Chair of the Arizona Commission of Indian Affairs at the Governor’s office, and on the Arizona Governor’s Human Trafficking Task Force.