U.S: Missing  and abused Native American women no longer invisible — By Mohamed Hamaludin

— By Mohamed Hamaludin

Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, 22, an eight-months-pregnant member of the Spirit Lake Nation in Fargo, North Dakota, disappeared in 2017. Her body was found in a river, her unborn infant cut from her womb, The Associated Press reported. Alyssa McLemore, 21, of Washington state, a member of the Aleut tribe, disappeared in 2008 after saying she would be boarding a bus to go help her ailing grandmother.

They are among thousands of Indigenous women and girls who went missing, according a database being assembled by cartographer Annita Lucchesi, the AP’s Sharon Cohen reported. “No one knows precisely how many there are because some cases go unreported, others aren’t documented thoroughly and there isn’t a specific government database tracking these cases,” Cohen said.

Rep. Deb Haaland, D-Mexico, of the Laguna Pueblo, one of the first two Indigenous women elected to Congress, called it “the silent crisis of missing and murdered Native women.”           

Some 269,421 Americans were identified in the 2010 census as of African-Native American ancestry, according to Wikipedia, but there is no ethnic breakdown on violence against mixed-race women. One of them is traditional singer Radmilla Cody of the Navajo Nation, a survivor of, and advocate against, domestic violence.

In 2016, 5,172 cases were reported to the National Crime Information Center but only 116 were logged in the Department of Justice’s missing persons database, according to the Seattle-based Urban Indian Health Institute, Jesslyn Cook and Isaac Himmelman of the Huffington Post reported.

At the end of 2017, Native Americans and Alaska Natives comprised 1.8 percent of unsolved missing cases in the FBI’s National Crime Information Center database but were only 0.8 percent of the U.S. population, the AP’s Cohen said. “On some reservations, they were murdered at a rate more than 10 times the national average and more than half of Native women have experienced sexual violence at some point,” she said, citing a Justice Department study. She added that “more that 80 percent of Native women experience violence in their lifetimes.”

They are also “noticeably absent” in the Me Too movement, Cook and Himmelman reported, even though, according to a 2016 study funded by the National Institute of Justice, “More than four in five American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced sexual violence … more than one in three had experienced violence in the past year.”

Bree Black Horse, a civil rights attorney, told the reporters that the movement is indeed relevant “but not in the same way.” She added, “It’s hard to worry about things like equal pay and fair treatment in the workplace when, as a Native American woman, at times you’re just trying to survive.”

Congress paid little attention until 2017, when then Senator Heidi Heitkamp, a North Dakota Democrat, introduced “Savanna’s Act,” named for LaFontaine-Greywind. It called on the Department of Justice to “develop a protocol to respond to the cases of missing and murdered Native Americans and the federal government to provide an annual report on the numbers,” Cohen reported. The Senate unanimously approved the bill in 2018 but it was blocked in the House by the then Judiciary Committee chairman, Republican Bob Goodlatte of Virginia.

Heitkamp lost her re-election bid last year but, in January, Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska reintroduced “Savanna’s Act” as an “essential first step,” The Guardian’s Lauren Gambino reported. Murkowski is confident of Senate approval again and passage is expected in the now Democratically controlled House, whose members also include Sharice Davids of Kansas, of the Ho Chunk Nation.

To mark Women’s History Month, Haaland and Davids introduced a first-of-its-kind resolution that specifically recognizes Indigenous women, according to a statement from Haaland’s office. The resolution cited the “challenges that disproportionately affect women in Native communities, including the wage gap disparity and domestic violence that contribute to the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women.”

Women’s History Month observances also coincided with the House’s reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, which, this time, “contains a number of protections for Native American women,” Gambino reported. Murkowski, meanwhile, joined with Democrat John Tester of Montana to co-sponsor the Not Invisible Act of 2019, for “combating sex trafficking among Native women.” Also, in April, the House Subcommittee on Indigenous Peoples of the United States held “an emotional hearing” on the issue of missing and murdered women, Gambino reported

So, finally, there is some action, to the relief of those long burdened by “the silent crisis.” Golden reported that, after Savanna’s Act was re-introduced in the Senate, family members of Alyssa McLemore gathered at a large park on the 10th anniversary of her disappearance. They wrote short notes to her and other loved ones on balloons. Then: “With arms wrapped around one another, the group gathered in a large circle surrounding McLemore’s family. They then released the messages as two eagles flew overhead and a quartet of women sang.”

Their song?

“Sister, sister, I want you to know.

You’re so strong and beautiful.

I gotta know, where did you go.

I think of you every day.

Since you’ve gone away.”

What happened to that sister may never be known but now at least the nation is paying attention.

Mohamed Hamaludin is a Guyana-born journalist who  worked for several years at The Chronicle in the 1970s and on publications in the Cayman Islands and Turks and Caicos Islands before emigrating to the United States in 1984 where he worked at The Miami Times, the Miami Herald and the South Florida Times.  Though now retired, he writes a commentary every week or two for The South Florida Times (sfltimes.com) in which the above column first appeared. He may be reached at hamal1942@gmail.com.

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  • Clyde Duncan  On 05/16/2019 at 10:49 am

    Mister Hamaludin: We have had our own “Highway of Tears” in Canada …

    The Highway of Tears is a series of murders and disappearances along a 720-kilometre (450 mi) corridor of Highway 16 between Prince George and Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Canada, beginning in 1970.

    The phrase was coined in 1998 during a vigil held in Terrace, British Columbia for six missing women.

    There are a disproportionately high number of Indigenous women on the list of victims.

    Explanations for this include systemic racism, disconnection with traditional culture, violence, poverty, drugs, and disruption of the family unit through the foster care system and the Native Indian residential schools.

  • Clyde Duncan  On 05/16/2019 at 10:56 am

  • Clyde Duncan  On 05/18/2019 at 7:47 pm

    Eddie wrote:
    “Makes you think really hard and long about man’s inhumanity towards man.”

    I say, Eddie: In case you missed it …. It is all about RELIGION

    Actually, the use of religious ideology to reconstruct people.

    The “Residential Schools” as they are called here – the sole purpose was ABUSE – to tear children away from everything they loved and identified with ….

    Because, although some of them transitioned – and became “white”
    – physically, they looked “native” and were not accepted in “our culture”

    They ended up doing what black issues have done to our people …

    Parties – Drugs – moving away from everything that is good …

    Until they physically died ….

    – Of course, they were a walking dead long before duh!!

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