The Native role in perpetuating #MMIW

Adrian Jawort

Natives flatly refusing to look at Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women is part of an internal problem

Adrian Jawort

On July 4, 2013 Hannah Harris’ body was found badly decomposed after four hot summer days after being sexually assaulted, brutally beaten, and murdered on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation.

Despite it being a clear cut case of murder, Garret Wadda was sentenced to just 10 years for his role in the crime. Harris had fought against his rape attempt before being killed by him and another defendant, a woman named Eugenia Ann Rowlanda. The defendants themselves pretended to help look for Harris in a search operation after she was reported missing.

“I don’t know how you were raised, but you don’t rape women, you don’t kill them, you don’t hide them, you don’t bury them,” a grieving mother, Melinda Harris, told Wadda at his sentencing. “People say if you want to get away with murder, go to the reservation. I think it’s true.”

On June 28, 2016, Roylynn Rides Horse died after fighting for her life for 72 days after being beaten, strangled, doused with gasoline, and severely burned on the Crow Indian Reservation. Four passengers in a vehicle—both men and women all in their early 20s—did nothing to stop the person who did it.

I can go on and keep listing terrible instances like these on reservations, but these are just a couple of recent very local stories haunting me; such as when LaFonda Big Leggins and Koren Nola Diebert were killed, according to The Billings Gazette, in beatings “so severe that the women's faces were unrecognizable when their frozen bodies were found in a ditch in a remote area of the Crow Indian Reservation.” Evil has no skin color or nationality, but it’s worth noting these killers and those involved are all tribal members.

And therein lays a major root of a problem of an ongoing crisis: Natives flatly refusing to look at Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women as part of an internal problem. As far as the Northern Plains goes, by far and large the primary perpetrators of #MMIW.

Yet, instead of admitting steps must be taken amongst us, many Native activists instead inadvertently become apologists for our own bourgeoning rape culture, usually citing debunked statistics claiming Native women are by far raped and sexually assaulted by whites and non-natives—ergo giving Native men a pass, as if they’re somehow beyond reproach.

I noticed a lot of these statistical misconceptions stem from a widely cited 2013 New York Times piece called Rape On Reservations by Native American author Lois Erdrich (The Roundhouse). In support of renewing the Violence Against Women Act, Erdrich wrote, “More than 80 percent of sex crimes on reservations are committed by non-Indian men, who are immune from prosecution by tribal courts.”

Any discerning observer of Indian country would have found that 80 percent dubious. While one must not understate the importance of the VAWA, it’s irresponsible journalism to keep lamenting such a stat as gospel. As proven in the long run, all it’s done is shirk responsibility tribal members need to acknowledge so they can move forward with a plan of action to combat the violence against women and #MMIW plagues.

In 2012 piece titled Crime Data Misrepresented to serve Hidden Tribal Agenda, Indian Country Today Media Network took issue to these statistics stemming from incomplete 2007 Amnesty International and 2004 Bureau of Justice reports.

Indian Country Today cited according to the BOJ, 72 percent of Indian reservations don’t (or won’t) share crime statistics to state or federal databases. However, for those tribes that did report to state agencies like in South Dakota, go figure 92 percent of American Indians were killed by another American Indian. And far from the 80 percent claim of sex crimes being committed by non-Natives, it was actually the near exact opposite number as 83 percent of reported rapes of Native reservation women were committed by another Native. A bitter truth, but doesn’t it simply make more sense logically?

The Amnesty International report itself stated, “In addition to underestimating the scale of sexual violence against Indigenous women, the limited data available does not give a comprehensive picture. For example, no statistics exist specifically on sexual violence in Indian Country and available data is more likely to represent urban than rural areas.” (Emphasis added.)

Even statistics representing Native women in urban areas are questionable and should have an asterisk if used. Indian Country Today put it bluntly of those using these misleading numbers, “Tribal leaders, lawyers, academics and multiculturalists who have written articles, testified before government committees and lobbied law makers using these reports are either unethical or dangerously careless or both.”

While there are jurisdiction issues, law complications, and FBI indifference, we are the ones allowing the atmosphere of violence against Native women to manifest to #MMIW. What point is there in protecting rapists and sex offenders on our reservations by continuing to blame shift by hiding behind erroneous numbers?

Natives readily latch onto instances where whites hurt Native women while ignoring our own male cousins, uncles, dads, and brothers committing the vast majority of violent acts against women amongst us. We can no longer remain content to keep blaming the FBI after a tragedy happens, all while we did nothing to prevent it from happening in the first place.

We need to be our Sister's protectors and be proactive about it in a sovereign and independent way that honors our ancestors’ resilience. At the Battle of the Little Bighorn, a Lakota woman sang a song to inspire and give courage to those warriors were going to face hails of bullets and possible death.

"Brothers-in-law, now your friends have come.

Take courage.

Would you see me taken captive?"

Nope, they did not. They'd protect their women, their families, their own children, and would readily die to prove it—and many did. Where is our coordinated warrior caste abiding by that mentality now?

In dealing with hard problems, hard solutions are needed, and looking inward is much harder than pointing fingers. No amount of outside political legislation or blame can fix an inherent problem we refuse to acknowledge in the first place.

We alone hold the solution.

Adrian Jawort, Northern Cheyenne, is a journalist and writer based in Billings, Montana. He is co-founder of theNative American Race Relations Healing and Lecture Seriesand founder ofOff the Pass Press, which aims to promote and produce indigenous literature.

Comments (3)
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We live in a society that brought over disrespect for women from the east. The treatment for women in Indian culture was not perfect I'm sure, but the absolute hatred, disrespect, bullying, assaulting women was never tolerated by tribes before the European crossed the Atlantic. This is a learned action generated over the decades by men who treated their women very disrespectfully. Research history of how men treated their women in countries from across the Atlantic. You would be very shocked to learn many European and other women from across the ocean, found and learned about the way women on the American continent were treated and how they gained & demanded more equality and respect. The absolute horror in the way indigenous women are treated now is because the entire indigenous nation was ruthlessly treated and it domino-ed from the man down to the women & children. BUT our culture was never like that neither Southern Mexican Indian or Northern American Indian. So, we can educate and relearn our true culture Not the one handed down to us by other cultures from across the Atlantic. And while we are at the process of educating our own we absolutely must educate the rest of the world about our history and not European History here in the Americas!


"Pornography" in the United States is a public-health crisis considering the availability of this "free-speech media" available on smart phones and smart TVs and National Corporate TV News, i.e. "stormy daniels" "CNN fabrications", etc. Pornography is everywhere and should be reeled in by the USGubbermit if only the National Democratic Committee (DNC) Party can get on-board. With hundreds of millions of dollars being given, e.g. Larry Flynt (Hustler), as Special-Interest dollars, all Democrats any Nancy Pelosi can do is.....turn and look the other way....STOP PORNOGRAPHY against women, and children!!!


I do not know who you are Mr. JackBilly71TL, but I am sure you are a white republican whose only goal is to try to demonize democrats. Right now democrats are not the problem, it is the republicans. Not that the democrats have their share of the blame for our lots in life, but right now, today, it is the republicans (backed by Russia and China) who are our biggest challenge. After all, it was the republicans who back the horrible Dakota Pipe Line, Trump has been ebbing away at taking away over five million dollar ear marked for health care for Native American children,it is the republicans who are slowly trying to take away our rights to vote in N, Dakota, and there is whispers in D.C. that Trump and the republicans are discussing how since we are a sovereign Nations within the US we are not American citizens and therefore we should not be counted in the next US Census count and therefore not able to collect Social Security (even if we paid into Social Security all of our working lives) or hold office outside of our rez. None of this can you lay at the feet of the democrats, but full lay on the hands of the republicans. As I said, the democrats are not with our blood on their hands, but for now, they are our only friends in D.C. So Mr. JackBilly, who ever you are, I am calling you our for the liar and white man you are.