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Stop Talking, Take Action: Missing, Murdered and Indigenous
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Stop Talking, Take Action: Missing, Murdered and Indigenous

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It’s been over two months since our article about the tragedy of the extremely high rate of disappearances and murder among indigenous and Native American women. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, but still, there are no changes in the law enforcement: The authorities have simply moved to a new phase of inaction – if at first, they preferred to ignore a decades-old epidemic, now they talk about it… but continue to do nothing.

Attempting to raise awareness of the epidemic, or it would be better to say – pandemic – of violence against Native women, representatives from Sacred Lands knocked on the doors of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), a principal and autonomous organ of the Organization of American States (OAS), whose mission is to promote and protect human rights in the American hemisphere.

On October 5, the last day of its 169th Period of Sessions in Boulder, Colorado, the IACHR generously held a conference dedicated to violence against U.S. indigenous women. The representatives from the Indian Law Resource Center, the Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center, and the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center “attracted global attention to this issue at a hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights,” says the article on the event at the website of the Indian Law Resource Center.

In fact, the conversation was much more like a student scientific conference with all these “15-minutes-limited” speeches, “thanks-for-coming-here” kowtowing to U.S. law representatives—those talking without taking a pause and those who only paused.

The event, envisaged as a serious international meeting of concerned people discussing critically important subjects, turned into somewhat of a farce that seemed to take place just for show. The President of the IACHR, Margarette May Macaulay, as well as her assistants, showed their total unpreparedness for the meeting and a lack of understanding of the subject they were to discuss.

Literally, not only could the members of the commission not fully express their opinions on the topic, but they also could not adequately understand the information presented by the representatives from Alaskan and Indian reservations. Each party was also given just 15 minutes “for their opening and main address and submissions.” After the announcement of the time limits, some representatives forced themselves to be as concise as possible – even Eminem would have envied the speed at which they spoke.

It would be appropriate to mention that the conference marked the beginning of the hearings on violence against indigenous women in the United States and was the first since the adoption of the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2016. It’s not the best thing to start with, though…

Although it’s quite understandable why the Indian Law Resource Center (ILRC) places high hopes in the international community’s involvement in solving the problem, the IACHR’s conference was exactly not the right instrument for that purpose.

While Native and Alaskan women representatives were trying to pack their decades-long pain into the allotted 15 minutes, the members of the commission tried to sound more “inter-American,” laughing at their own English they called “Spanglish,” constantly clarifying the details they “didn’t understand” and asking to “send the information later, after the conference” because they “don’t really have much.”

The members of the commission paid some special attention to the “root causes” of the epidemic, carrying out excessive conversations and touching upon those aspects of the problem that have already been heard hundreds of times.

Moreover, even the media, which is often blamed for rare coverage of the problems of indigenous population, managed to answer the questions that should’ve been answered by the commission itself.

“I understand that substratum of this what you basically are complaining about, which results in impunity, lack of protection at the states of your peoples and the failure to ensure due process when the crimes are committed against women, is due to discrimination and a lack of recognition of the rights of indigenous women and native women,” the President of the IACHR said, pondering the reasons for what’s happening to indigenous and Alaskan women.

Oh, this passion of the law authorities and organizations on human rights for speaking in clichés – racial discrimination, poverty… Why not Russia then?

Searching for the “root causes” cost Canadians $53.8 million as they tried to unpack the truth of “what’s going on” in their country, having launched a national inquiry that revealed the existence of the problem but showed no possible solutions.

Maybe, the lack of tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians could possibly be the “root cause” of the problem?

“If a white person commits murder or rape against a Native American person, the federal government would have jurisdiction over those crimes, instead of the tribe or state government,” said Cheryl Bennett, an Arizona State University professor who studies hate crimes targeting indigenous peoples.

But when tribal law enforcement sent sexual-abuse cases to the FBI and U.S. Attorney Offices, federal prosecutors declined more than two-thirds of them, according to a 2010 Government Accountability Office report.

Although the Violence Against Women’s Act (VAWA) of 2013 gave reservations criminal jurisdiction over non-indigenous people who commit domestic or dating violence against Native American women, it does not cover violent crimes committed by people who are not Native American who do not know their victims; those cases are also forwarded to the federal government.

About 65% of criminal investigations opened by the FBI in reservations were referred for prosecution, according to the 2016 TLOA report. Of the 680 investigations that were closed without referral for prosecution, one of the most frequent reasons was due to insufficient evidence to determine whether a crime occurred.

This likely reflects “difficulties caused by the justice system in place,” including the “lack of police on the ground in Indian Country,” and “shortfalls for training, forensics equipment, (and) personnel,” the 2016 report said, based on information from an earlier Senate report.

Anyways, now it doesn’t even matter as authorities let the VAWA expire on September 30. They must have been too busy with the Brett Kavanaugh hearings…

Maybe, it somehow influences the state of the problem that instead of restricting the possibility to freely enter Native lands for anyone, the government let oil workers build their pipelines?

According to Kandi Mossett, a member of the MHA Nation and the director of the Native Energy and Climate Campaign of the Indigenous Environmental Network, “interactions between Native Americans and non-native oil workers are inevitable.”

She also said that community members of the MHA Nation have created Facebook pages to warn residents of dangers. “You’ll see alerts on there about a van that tried to grab three native kids driving by the elementary school,” she said. “I’ve seen four of those now, supposedly white offenders.”

MHA Nation victim services workers “said it was the transient workers that were committing these crimes ... and with the arrival of all of these men, the rape victimization had tripled,” Lisa Brunner co-director of Indigenous Women's Human Rights Collective and professor and cultural coordinator at White Earth Tribal and Community College in Mahnomen, Minnesota, said. “They did not see it coming or know what was about to happen with all of these men coming up for the oil boom.”

The cases of men “going from house to house trying to lure girls into coming with them” have also become more frequent these days, as Native people warn through Facebook.

Maybe it’s due to the fact that the U.S. legal system just fails?

“The legal system is simply not functioning properly (to prevent) these types of things from happening,” Sarah Deer, a University of Kansas professor, member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, and author of The Beginning and End of Rape: Confronting Sexual Violence in Native America, says.

“[A Native woman or girl] doesn’t get on the front page of the newspapers or land on primetime CNN. She isn’t worthy of our attention. When no one in authority looks for a missing woman, it sends a strong statement to the families and to communities that this life doesn’t matter — it is an expendable life. Victim-blaming is often a part of this dynamic. If she’s done X, Y, or Z — no wonder she got caught up in trouble. Unlike an innocent white college girl, this Native woman doesn’t deserve prioritization.”

Deer also claims that it’s Native women’s invisibility and “disposability” in society that attracts predators.

Tyler Hiebert, a doctoral student focusing on contemporary Native American issues, echoes the professor: “We know about serial killers who just prey on indigenous women because they know they can get away with it.”

The most dangerous and unprotected places are the safest for the offenders who go there like flies to honey. Therefore, the question is who’s responsible for the security in Native lands: the feds, the lawmakers, the tribal police, or maybe Native peoples themselves?

Those who face the problem – nearly every family in the tribe – feel shame to report to the tribal police officer about the disappearance of their loved ones, preferring to start their own investigations, which only aggravates the problem as they lose the precious first 48 hours when the chances of finding the missing person are higher by far.

“They almost shame the people that are reporting, (and say), ‘Well, she’s out drinking. Well, she probably took up with some man,’” says Carmen O’Leary, director of the Native Women’s Society of the Great Plains. “A lot of times families internalize that kind of shame, (thinking) that it’s her fault somehow.”

“This lack of law enforcement resources is a deadly combination with the high rate of domestic violence and abuse occurring within Native American communities — which could also be an effect of mental health and substance abuse on reservations,” the Daily Trojan reported.

Ivan MacDonald, a member of the Blackfeet Nation and a filmmaker, who along with his sister Ivy produced a documentary on Native American women in Montana who vanished or were killed (When They Were Here), offers his own harsh assessment. “You could sort of tie it into poverty or drug use or some of those factors … but the federal government doesn’t really give a crap at the end of the day,” he says.

Maybe the real “root causes” are hidden behind the federal government’s promises that are never fulfilled? If there were an eye-for-an-eye medieval law protecting indigenous women from violence, would anyone lay a finger on them?

Any solutions?

The path to solving the epidemic will require more than a piece of legislation or a conference, Professor Deer believes. The families should not only be included but should lead the way. “Stopping the #MMIW crisis will take years and maybe decades. It must be a multi-faceted movement led by family members of missing Indigenous women,” she says. “Those families are the experts on this crisis and should be the leaders of the movement.”

“The effort to end the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women must be inclusive and multi-pronged. Spreading awareness is just the beginning. Only when we work together on comprehensive solutions will we be able to ensure that the families of those who’ve been murdered receive justice, and that Native women and girls will be better protected moving forward. It is time for those in power to listen.”

“It’s time for the country to respond to the crisis more aggressively — through supportive social and economic policies — to ensure the safety of Native American women,” writes Nathaniel Hyman, a Daily Trojan journalist.

Here’s the letter from Matthew Lone Bear posted on September 20 in which he shares his own vision of the problem:

If there is a fire, we have fire fighters. If there is a medical emergency, we have ambulances and hospitals. If people go missing...

I’m not a smart man. I feel if people are missing at these rates across North and South America. There should be a whole separate department dedicated to finding missing people. They specialize in finding missing people. There is no deterrent which is why people keep going missing. If we can spend trillions and trillions on trivial bullshit. Let’s try to think outside the box.

Upon meeting my first FBI AGENT. He was defensive that they can’t find every missing person. Gave me a statistic of 1,300 people go missing in America everyday. “How do we handle that??!!” He said. I told him “one step at a time.” If your house is on fire you don’t turn around and hope the problem goes away. You stand up and move. If 1,300 people just disappeared out of Times Square... I guarantee there would be an investigation. But because it is spread out across a country they don’t pay much attention to it. Human trafficking is a multi-billion dollar industry. I would put money on that these numbers are somehow related.

“What is lacking?” asked the President of the IACHR during the commission’s response to representatives referring to the facilities in the Alaskan villages and Native peoples’ reservations. Ms. President, a serious approach by the authorities to solving the situation is lacking, timely investigations by the police are lacking, justice to those who committed a crime is lacking, and government protection is lacking.

What is the expected result of such a conference? A promise “to monitor the situation”? Or a pack of new laws that are in fact no more than just feeble subterfuges?

This is what Lissa Yellowbird-Chase, founder of the Sahnish Scouts of North Dakota, a missing person’s advocacy group, said about Savanna’s Act that Sen. Heitkamp has been working so hard on: “Savanna’s Act has no teeth. There is no real accountability or detailed responsibilities for the feds. [Savanna’s Act] points out that missing and murdered Native women are a problem, but we already know that; we need action.”

What about the American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples?

It was adopted on June 15, 2016, after nearly 30 years of advocacy and negotiation, by the Organization of American States (OAS), a regional intergovernmental organization of 35 member countries of the Americas, including the United States.

According to Article VII of the document,

  1. Indigenous women have the right to the recognition, protection, and enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms provided for in international law, free from discrimination of any kind.
  2. States recognize that violence against indigenous peoples and individuals, particularly women, hinders or nullifies the enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms.
  3. States shall adopt, in conjunction with indigenous peoples, the necessary measures to prevent and eradicate all forms of violence and discrimination, particularly against indigenous women and children.

“The American Declaration is a comprehensive, regional human rights instrument and it will become one of the most important instruments of the Inter-American Human Rights System. Both the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights will interpret the Declaration to provide content to other instruments, such as the American Convention on Human Rights – the main regional human rights treaty, and the American Declaration on Rights and Duties of Man,” ILRC reported just after the adoption of the document.

No one seems to have noticed the footnotes of the Declaration indicating that “the United States has, however, persistently objected to the text of this American Declaration, which is not itself legally binding, does not, therefore, create new law, and is not a statement of Organization of American States (OAS) member states’ obligations under treaty or customary international law.”

Well, that’s not surprising by far: in 2007, when 144 countries signed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), the U.S. was among only 4 countries who voted against it, allegedly due to the parts of the provision that say indigenous peoples “have the right to the lands, territories, and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied, or otherwise used and acquired” (was the U.S. already planning to build numerous pipelines on Native lands?).

On December 16, 2010, by the time the other three nations had switched their votes in support of the declaration, leaving the U.S. as the lone holdout, President Obama, called by the Crow Nation “One Who Helps People Throughout the Land,” made the announcement at the second White House Tribal Nations Conference that “the United States is lending its support to this declaration.” 

“But I want to be clear: What matters far more than words - what matters far more than any resolution or declaration - are actions to match those words. And that’s what this conference is about,” he added.

In a bit less than a year, the Indian Country Today wrote that “when President Barack Obama signaled that the United States had changed course and was now supporting the UNDRIP, nobody really knew what that meant,” worrying “his proclamation was just empty words since his administration wasn’t going to make the document legally binding.”

The Center for World Indigenous Studies also expressed its doubts about the Obama administration’s actions: “It is a serious matter that the U.S. government arrogates to itself the right and power to decide for American Indians, Alaskan and Hawaiian Natives without obtaining their free, prior and informed consent.”

Though, from December 16 on, it’s been generally accepted that the U.S. was “the last of the four to announce their full endorsement in December of 2010.” Then, if so, what about implementing it? Where’re the actions? Who is responsible for the implementation of the words announced in the declaration?

Meanwhile, while the members of the commission were laughing, “the missing and murdered” problem flourished...

According to Justice For Native Women and MMIW Database, several girls and women went missing from September 30 to October 5 – the IACHR Period of Sessions.

Here’s the letter from one girl’s mother:

After not hearing from my daughter Jozlyn Ttoille since Oct 6, 2018, I decided to place a call to Barrie, Ontario police to report her missing.

Constable Watt contacted me. I explained that I haven’t heard from her and that she will usually send me messages on Facebook on a regular and consistent basis to let me know she is okay and the last message I received was Oct 6, 2018, that simply said “I need help”

I have, since then, made inquiries to friends and people I know in Barrie (even calling the library where she can use the internet for free) conducting my own, so to speak, investigation.

<…>

I told Constable Watt that I realize she lives a risky lifestyle and is homeless but she usually checks in with me or her Aunt Rachel Naponse-Pattison to let us know she’s still alive. As traumatic as it is listening to her tell us what’s happening with her, she is open and truthful about her life. She suffers from Mental Health issues and has been a victim of human trafficking.

Constable Watt told me that he can’t report her missing because “she doesn’t have an address to be missing from” and “she’s an adult and makes her own choices about her life, and if she doesn’t want to contact you she doesn’t have to” and her saying she needed help was probably “her wanting money”.

<…>

Obviously, Constable Watt didn’t believe me as he said he had to “check” with Newmarket police. I also explained to Constable Watt about her being a victim and having mental health issues. I felt he was dismissive and really didn’t want to listen to me when I reiterated she checks in on a regular basis. He then called me back and said he would get a detective to call me tomorrow. I told him that I felt he was dismissive with me about Jocelyn earlier and he responded: “I can’t help the way you feel”.

<…>

I asked a worker from Barrie whom Jocelyn has worked with to help me and gave him her number. He called her and he actually told her “can’t report her missing just because she doesn’t call her ‘mommy’ when she’s supposed to”. This is AFTER I told him I thought he was being dismissive.

Constable Watt, shame on you. Shame on you for making me feel like my child is not important because of her lifestyle. I realize there won’t be a brigade out looking for her. At the very least, I’m looking for a phone call letting me know she’s alive and you know this because she was arrested or hospitalized or something!

Constable Watt, Jocelyn has family who loves her and worries about her and we don’t want her ending up a statistic with MMIW.

She may be just another homeless native addict to you... but to us ... she was born at 3:49 am to a room full of family welcoming her, she is a fancy shawl and jingle dress dancer, her Indian name is “Singing Bird Woman”, she is an accomplished Equestrian and Violinist and studied pre-law at the University of Calgary. She is an Aboriginal Woman with a family who won’t give up on her.

Facebook group MMIW DATABASE on October 8: “Please pray for Lorraine Ginnis. She has been missing since Thursday. Pray for the people in Fort Yukon as they search for her.”/Facebook.com

Facebook group MMIW DATABASE on October 16: “MARYLAND Brooklynn Hays, 16yo, was last seen leaving her home in Essex on September 30, 2018.”/Facebook.com

Facebook.com

Famela Cruz-larney, 10, and Noah Cruz-larney, 14, were last seen in Oklahoma City on October 4, 2018. The children are biracial. Famela and Noah are American Indian and Hispanic.

Heaven Mountainsheep, 16, was last seen in Billings, Montana on September 30, 2018.

Cheyenne Begay, 17, was last seen in Sacaton, Arizona on October 4, 2018.

Annika Opocensky, 21, was last seen on the Fort Hall Indian Reservation in Idaho on September 30, 2018.

Lorraine Ginnis, 62, was last seen walking near her home on Spruce Street in Fort Yukon, Alaska on October 4, 2018.

On October 5, Lindsay Marie Jackson, a resident of Saddle Lake Cree Nation who was last seen on September 22, was reported to be found dead in the North Saskatchewan River.

This combination of images from various law enforcement agencies and organizations shows posters of missing and slain Native American women and girls as of September 2018. No one knows precisely how many there are because authorities don't have reliable statistics. But some call it an epidemic, a long-standing problem linked to inadequate resources and a confusing jurisdictional maze/voanews.com

What has been done by the authorities over the past two months?

August 15: The Attorney General’s Advisory Subcommittee on Native American Issues (NAIS) met in Tulsa, Oklahoma from August 13-15 to discuss crime reduction strategies in Indian Country.

August 21: Violence Against Women Tribal Consultation –  an annual meeting between tribal and federal officials about violence against Native women.

August 29: National Sexual Assault Conference at which violence against women delivered remarks at the National Sexual Assault Conference.

September 13: the Republican introduction of the Violence Against Women Extension Act by Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) aimed at extending current provisions of the expiring VAWA Act for six months. This act surprised Native women’s advocates and was called by senior Native affairs policy adviser with the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center (NIWRC) Caroline LaPorte “a total slap in the face for Native women” as it “included a fiscal rollback especially for tribal programs and others.”

September 18-20: the 26th annual Four Corners Indian Country Conference.

The Conference resulted in the Department of Justice’s decision to announce “more than $113 million in grant awards to improve public safety, serve victims of crime, combat violence against women, and support youth programs in American Indian and Alaska Native communities” on September 19. The DoJ doubled the amount of grant funding devoted to “public safety programs and serving victims of crime in Native American communities.” Well, the most remarkable thing in this message is the notion about “serving the victims of crime” – taking into account that the majority of them are never found after they disappear.

In the past, the government took similar measures to treat violence against indigenous women. Even though such actions didn’t show any fruitful result for statistics, the authorities responsible for managing the situation preferred to continue showing “how seriously Attorney General Sessions and the entire Department of Justice take these issues” and their “commitment to reducing violent crime and improving public safety.”

“When you think about the enormity of the victims we’re talking about, the money being provided has been graciously received,” Juana Majel-Dixon, who co-chairs a National Congress of American Indians taskforce created to address violence against Native American women and girls, said. “But it’s not enough.”

The government bet on the approach of facilitating the consequences of the situation, in an attempt to wipe mothers’ tears with its money. In fact, they don’t need all those numerous centers for preparing the “future victims of violence,” neither do they need all those annual/quarterly/monthly or even daily reports – just stop talking and do something relevant.

“The feds should create a liaison office dedicated to coordinating data. We don’t need to wait five to ten more years for the results of another study,” Caroline LaPorte, senior Native affairs policy adviser with the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, said. “We are not willing to sacrifice more women.”

September 18: U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp voted with a bipartisan majority in the Senate to extend the Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA, for two months to prevent it from expiring at the end of September. She also called on Congress to quickly pass a long-term reauthorization to give certainty to victims of domestic violence and law enforcement agencies that depend on VAWA programs to crack down on abuse.

As you know, VAWA expired on September 30.

October 3: Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General Jesse Panuccio traveled to Mexico City on Tuesday to lead the U.S. delegation in the Trilateral Working Group on Violence Against Indigenous Women and Girls.

October 5: The IACHR conference in Colorado.

Where are the results, though…?

The pandemic of the missing and murdered seems more like a latent genocide underpinned by useless laws and endless meetings, discussions, and conferences that are no more than smoke and mirrors. Caring too much about the “international showdown,” the U.S. government has completely forgotten about its own citizens…

Now, whilst the government is increasingly unable to help, never forget those gone missing. Wear red and take action.

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Author: USA Really