Native American Woman, Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego, CA, Accession No. 2003.003.040 (PD)
There is a haunting exhibit outside the Smithsonian’s Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC . Red dresses flutter in the wind. They represent the thousands of indigenous women killed or missing in this country.
The topic of abuse among Native Americans does not generate much publicity. The House of Representatives, Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples, recently held a hearing on the subject. Grandly titled “Unmasking the Hidden Crisis of Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women: Exploring Solutions to End the Cycle of Violence”, the hearing received little press.
What we know is that the murder rate for American Indian and Native Alaskan women on tribal lands is 10 times the national average. Over 5700 were reported murdered or missing in 2016 alone.
Of that number a mere fraction – 116 to be precise – made it to a Dept. of Justice database. In point of fact, there is no national database that reliably tracks these women.
Poverty is deeply rooted on the reservation. Existence there is spare in the best of times. That may be a factor contributing to the violence.
Other problems include jurisdictional confusion as among federal, state, and tribal agencies; the all too frequent dismissal by law enforcement of reports of missing women struggling with addiction or other issues; and a focus by sex traffickers on Native American women as “exotic”.
These were all real women. Each and every one of them had a name; had a mother. Each had hopes and dreams. But their voices are lost on the wind now.
 Washington Post, “Red dresses flutter, empty, on the National Mall and this is why they should haunt us” by Theresa Vargas, 3/16/19, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/red-dresses-flutter-empty-on-the-national-mall-and-this-is-why-they-should-haunt-us/2019/03/15/715d6f14-4753-11e9-aaf8-4512a6fe3439_story.html?utm_term=.bccceb52d7bd.
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