Violence against indigenous women has reached epidemic proportions, with native women being bettered, raped, and stalked at greater rates than any other population of women in the United States.
In Washington, high school track star Rosalie Fish, a member of Cowlitz Tribe, is bringing attention to this unreported crisis by running at meets with a red painted hand over her mouth and the letters MMIW – Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women – written on her leg. This is Fish’s way of peacefully bringing attention to the inability of victims to speak for themselves.
“It’s the first time I ran for anyone other than myself. … This is the first time I’ve ever made a scene and not been apologetic,” said Fish.
Fish honored several specific women at her state meet this month. She dedicated Misty Anne Upham in her 400-meter final, Alice Looney in the 1,600, Jacqueline Salyers in the 800, and Renee Davis and her unborn child in the 3,200. All of these indigenous women and Washington natives were victims of violence and were depicted on a poster Fish brought to the meet.
“As a Native runner, it goes without saying you run for Native people,” Fish said. “You have to realize you represent Indian Country.”
“Nobody is going to listen to me. As a teenage girl nobody has to care what I say. But when I run about it, people will notice.”
In New Mexico, artist Sebastian Velasquez is painting murals to pay tribute to MMIW. Velasquez’s artwork will be features in the Las Cruces eighth annual “illegal” graffiti art show.
Organizers of the show support Velasquez’s message and hope that it will help raise awareness and set a reminder of the issue throughout the year.
According to statistics from the Department of Justice, on some Native American reservations, women are 10 times more likely to be murdered than the national average. There have been 5,712 reported cases of murdered and missing indigenous women and girls since 2016, yet only 116 were logged in the Department of Justice database.
More than 4 in 5 American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced violence and more than 1 in 2 have experienced sexual violence, according to the Indian Law Resource Center. Unfortunately, these numbers only represent a fraction of the real data, as the lack of diligent and adequate federal response contributes to limited available statistics.