Why I Wear Red
By Shereá Denise
Each day we hear more tragic stories about the effects of the Coronavirus and how many lives it has stolen. Some media outlets would have you believe that this is one of the worst times to be on American soil. But there were lives stolen on this land long before this outbreak. Since colonizers first found their way to Turtle Island (modern day North America), Indigenous people have been in an ongoing battle - not just to secure their land and their rights - but to remain safe on the land that once protected them. The land that now holds their remains.
This country has struggled with handling a pandemic for the last month, but it has struggled with the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (#MMIWG) for centuries. How has a problem that has lasted this long not been addressed? One has to wonder, if these women and girls had blonde hair and blue eyes, would there be more efforts to locate them? To prevent their deaths? To maintain accurate records and conduct investigations of what is happening to them?
Did you know that, in the last several years, more than 200 Indigenous women have been murdered? Did you know that, in 2017, there were 5,646 Native American women entered as missing into the National Crime Information Centre database? Did you know that these women are typically harmed by men who are not Native and are not part of the American Indian community?
According to various sources:
In 2016, there were 5,711 Native American women entered into the National Crime Information Centre database.
In the first six months of 2018 there were 2,758 Indigenous women reported missing. (https://www.independent.co.uk/news/long_reads/native-american-women-missing-murder-mmiw-inquiry-canada-us-violence-indigenous-a8487976.html)
Alaska Native women continue to suffer the highest rate of forcible sexual assault and have reported rates of domestic violence up to 10 times higher than [women throughout] the rest of the United States... On some reservations, Indigenous women are murdered at more than ten times the national average.” –Indian Law Resource Center
I am sure that you can imagine my frustration with the amount of air-time that our media gives simple things like Donald Trump’s inability to remember people’s names when we have something far greater affecting the original people of this nation that have long since been cast aside. Is it that this topic does not matter? That these lives do not matter? Or is it easier to ignore the Indigenous people of this country because then nobody has to acknowledge the twisted history that the world’s strongest nation has with its original people?
Regardless of a lack of attention being paid to the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls throughout North America, it is quite apparent that the relationship between this nation and its first citizens remains toxic and abusive. We have read about the Trail of Tears. We have seen Standing Rock. We have watched sacred burial grounds be destroyed. We have learned about Boarding Schools and the misuse of the Child Welfare System in an effort to annihilate American Indian culture. Despite the many efforts to rid this soil of Indigenous people, we remain here, and the American government has a responsibility to us. That responsibility involves more than calling out former presidential hopefuls for their past claims of American Indian heritage. It involves enacting legislation to protect American Indian people, maintaining more accurate data regarding who is missing/who has been murdered/who has been located, and finding the money needed to ensure that there are systems in place to continue to address the MMIWG epidemic going forward.
Though the MMIWG epidemic does not directly impact my Tribe or my community, it is affecting those around us and those that are part of a greater American Indian community. It is alarming that information about who is missing and who has been murdered is not openly being discussed. There are only a few websites and social media accounts that actively try to maintain records of what is happening in each tribe and most of those sites and accounts appear to focus their efforts around federally-recognized tribes, which means that there is little-to-no information about how this epidemic is impacting smaller state-recognized tribes.
In my opinion, this is outrageous. But - at some point - you have to channel your outrage into action. You have to use your frustration to fuel your focus on preventing the continued disregard of your people, of any marginalized group of people.
The color red has various meanings; however, it is used as the official color of the MMIWG campaign because “[i]n various tribes, red is known to be the only color that spirits see. It is hoped that by wearing red, [the tribes and families] can call back the missing spirits of our women and children so we can lay them to rest.” (Native Women’s Wilderness, https://www.nativewomenswilderness.org/mmiw)
I wear red to raise awareness and to bring attention to the many issues plaguing Indigenous women and girls in North America. I wear red to remind people of the names that they scrolled past on the internet, the names of those girls who have gone missing, the names of those women who have been murdered. I wear red to highlight the struggles of a group of people that many have chosen to ignore. I wear red because I know that my ancestors fought for me to be here. I wear red because there are not enough people willing to be a voice for the voiceless. I wear red because the blood of so many missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls figuratively covers many of the hands and much of the land of this country. I may not know all of their names, but I know each of their lives had and have value.
That is why I wear red.
To learn more about this epidemic, search the #MMIWG hashtag on social media and/or visit the following websites:
Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women: https://www.csvanw.org/mmiw/
Indian Law Resource Center: https://indianlaw.org/issue/ending-violence-against-native-women