Uniting online for missing Native women, girls

Women's March 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Jourdan Bennett-Begaye)

Kalle Benallie

May 5 is the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls

Kalle Benallie

Indian Country Today

The novel coronavirus isn’t stopping the awareness and activities of National Day of Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls.

Before COVID-19, there would be public rallies, vigils, community activities and more. But this year, the May 5 awareness campaign will proceed online.

The National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center asks the public to commemorate May 5 while everyone is social distancing so that services like shelters and programs can try to continue to help survivors during the pandemic.

“While the important public health policies of social distancing and ‘shelter-in-place’ may prevent in-person MMIWG activities, we strongly encourage communities and programs to creatively participate in this year’s National Day of Awareness,” said the resource center in a news release.

The Montana Congressional Delegation declared May 5 as the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls in a senate resolution in 2017 to honor Hanna Harris’ birthday. Harris was a 21-year-old Northern Cheyenne woman who went missing on July 4, 2013.

Since then the national movement has come together on May 5 to end violence against Native women through organized activities.

The day is to promote grassroots advocacy and changes to laws and policies dedicated to the issue. Advocates call on Congress to address responses of the federal, state criminal justice systems for Native women, increase tribal victim services and tribal justice resources.

“In uncertain times such as these, where people are forced to work from home or lose their jobs altogether, it can put people in abusive relationships at further risk,” the center said.

A coalition of domestic violence shelters serving the Navajo people said the pandemic has led to more domestic violence calls to all the domestic shelters in the Navajo Nation, according to a Navajo Nation Council press release on April 30.

“Domestic violence, locally, is absolutely increasing with being sheltered-in-place with their abusers,” said Jessica Cooper of Roberta’s Place in Grants, New Mexico. “Shelter staff are seeing a huge increase in crisis calls and the need for the ability to have a place to go. With COVID-19, it’s very difficult.”

Lorena Halwood, executive director of Amá dóó Ałchiní Bighan, Inc., said with the isolation, crowded households, and high rates of domestic abuse and violence leaves victims stuck.

“With this pandemic, we have loss of jobs, which is a major financial setback for families. I would call it intimate terrorism, now, in the homes of victims,” she said. “Can you imagine a victim being in there with a batterer 24-7? Being isolated with a batterer? I think that it gives more power to the abuser.”

MMIW Billings Montana - Adrian Jawort (1)
(Photo by Adrian Jawort)

How to participate on May 5

One simple way coalitions and advocates say to participate is by wearing red.

The center is asking the public to join efforts like downloading a ‘No More Stolen Sisters’ poster, registering for the webinar and tagging the center on social media.

People can join the Twitter storm, a rapid burst of activity about specific topics started by users, May 5 from 11 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Central Time and a Twitter chat from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. Central Time. Use #MMIWGActionNow for the Twitter storm. During the Twitter chat, use #MMIWGActionNow, #NoMoreStolenSisters, and #MMIWG.

The center’s executive director Lucy Simpson will be talking on Native America Calling on Tuesday about how advocates are “uniting (in isolation) for MMIWG awareness.”

There’s also a series from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Central Time on The United State of Women’s Instagram Live with Elizabeth Carr, the center’s senior Native affairs advisor.

Lastly, those interested can join a Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls – National Day of Action’ webinar from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Central Time. Register on the center’s website.

The Lakota People’s Law Project also created a missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls resource guide with readings, data, videos and more.

“We believe that we can continue to build strong support and action around MMIWG but only with your help,” the center said. 

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