Missing and Murdered Women: The Fight to Exist Amid a Modern Horror

I’ve always been aware of the racism that pervades our justice system and society, but the rate of missing and murdered indigenous women is nightmarish.

(Editorial contains graphic details)

Joey English’s body was hidden for a day under Joshua Jordan Weise’s bed before he dismembered her and threw the body parts in several locations. The man was released on bail twice after pleading guilty to the crime.

The death and dismemberment of Joey English is a true horror story, and the lack of justice has further traumatized English’s family, and has created a deepening sense of fear for Native women across North America.

The man who dismembered her will not serve more than 24 months, according to the Crown prosecutor on the case.


Joey’s story and the truth of her life will always be in the shadow of injustice. Her body was dismembered, and her own mother wants to know where the rest of her can be found. The police called off the search for her remains after only four months.

"I just can't understand, where are my daughter's body parts? Where are her arms? Where are her legs?” said English's mom, Stephanie English.

I’ve always been aware of the racism that pervades our justice system and society, but the way men are killing indigenous women with impunity is nightmarish.

The general public responds poorly to stories about indigenous people. Their comments were so horrible that CBC, a Canadian news organization, had to disable comments on stories about Native people. I myself have experienced hate speech from racist men and women when I publish work about Native issues.

I believe there is a hostile audience when it comes to the missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada and America. It’s as if people can’t acknowledge the femicide committed against the first women of this land.

First Nations women in Canada are four times more likely to go missing or be murdered than any other group of women, but we’re a minority of the population.

The indignities against indigenous women like Barbara Kentner, who was hit in the abdomen with a metal trailer hitch as she was walking in a residential neighborhood in Thunder Bay, are all too common. When she was hit, a man could be heard saying, “I (expletive) got one of them!” Reports say the woman won’t survive, and there’s a fund in her name we can donate to.

These crimes are not tried as hate crimes, and when they do go to court there is obvious bias against us.

Cindy Gladue, the victim of a gruesome murder, is a woman I can’t forget. She looks like my relative. I can identify her face, eyes, and story when I look at the ever-growing photo collage of missing and murdered indigenous women in North America.

A trucker was tried for her murder, and, while he admitted she was found dead in his hotel bathtub with an 11cm wound to her vagina, that was likely caused by blunt force with his hands or a knife, he claims she consented to rough sex—and that was enough to acquit him.

I can’t say what is more horrendous, that her pelvis was preserved and shown to the jury, or that they referred to her as “the Native girl,” or the “prostitute.” And her mother had to see and hear all of this, and then watch the murderer get away with a crime beyond comprehension. It makes no sense.

I worry for my nieces, and for myself, and it feels as if we are hunted. It doesn’t sound crazy when we consider the truth of our history.

I fell asleep with these stories on my mind in a hotel room in California, before a panel discussion I was set to do at UCLA. At 3 a.m. there was a man at my door, belligerent, knocking and trying to slide his keycard to come in. I was paralyzed with fear in the dark, and when he eventually left, I still could not move.

I waited and called the front desk, where they told me he was just a man on the wrong floor. I didn’t feel reassured, because I, along with other Native women, know that if we are attacked, assaulted, murdered, or harassed, we could be seen as “the Native girl,” or worse, “the prostitute.”

The narrative that we are troubled, or dirty, or deserving of violence, or that we should be treated like trash, feels palpable in the world, in my bed, in the media, and it feels that way everyday.

I cannot let people perpetuate the stigma that Natives are doing this to themselves. We must constantly refuse that narrative, because colonizers—people who benefit from this narrative—rely on those racist comments and the attitude that we are worthless.

We must continue to occupy spaces in journalism, education, science and technology, and social work, because the only way our stories will be heard is if we tell them ourselves. We have to occupy positions of power to break down the inherent racism that exists within our institutions. We can also incorporate indigenous knowledge into spaces where it isn’t commonly explored to create a better, safer, and more collective environment for everyone. We must be so loud and proud that opposing forces cannot silence us.

The truth is that white supremacy has wanted nothing more than to rid North America of its Indian Problem, but we were never the problem. The sick nature of colonialism has bred the worst in its people. It’s pervaded our communities; even some of our own people have become the culprits of our pain and oppression.

We must continue to remember these women’s names and faces, and survive. The reality, as I know it, is that I feel threatened. I feel a general threat to my life—that when people know I’m Native they can judge me based on their limited experience with my people, and men can view me with a lecherousness they believe I deserve and ask for.

We must continue to survive, carry these stories, and never be afraid to identify our culprits. My mark on this earth is the fight I’ve given to remain alive, and heard. Native women fight tooth and nail for the basic rights people are given every day, and although it seems like they can erase us, we can hold each other up, speak power to each other, remember each other as we move forward in life.

Terese Marie Mailhot is from Seabird Island. Her work has been featured in Carve Magazine and Yellow Medicine Review. She is Saturday Editor at The Rumpus and she’s a proud IAIA graduate.