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CSW62 Report Back | Day 7

CSW62 Report Back | Day 7

Violence experienced by Native American Women | Keira Jenkins, Penny Dordoy and Un-Ai Jo

Today the NCOSS team attended a presentation by The National Indigenous Women in Rural America on violence experienced by Native American women. The presentation highlighted the alarming statistics of domestic and sexual violence in Native American communities:

  • 55% of Native American women have experienced intimate partner violence in their lifetime
  • 56% have experienced sexual violence.
  • Native American women experience the highest rates of violence in the United States.
  • Significantly 96% of perpetrators of the violence are non-natives.

There are scores of missing and murdered Indigenous women in North America and Canada, although the statistics would lead you to believe otherwise. There are also large numbers of missing and murdered Indigenous women at home, in Australia.

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced an inquiry into the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG) last year. So far only a few stories have been heard, and there’s so much more to do. In Australia and America, there’s been nothing - or next to nothing being done.

Today, Native American women face significant jurisdictional hurdles in addressing violence perpetrated against them. Native survivors of intimate partner violence or sexual assault on their land often experience jurisdictional hurdles when they attempt to report violent crimes.

As an added complication, crimes committed on tribal lands fall under the jurisdiction of federal, state or tribal authorities, and the process is dependent on a combination of factors, such as

  1. whether the offender and victim identify as Native or non-Native
  2. the nature of the alleged crime
  3. the state in which the alleged crime took place, and
  4. whether the crime was committed on tribal lands, as defined by federal statute.

Attempting to navigate these legal systems is extremely difficult and often leave Native victims of violence without a clear path to justice. Moreover, often survivors are met with discrimination when they report these violent crimes, with authorities failing to fully investigate or worse, entirely disregarding these missing persons reports.

Families are told that their loved one is probably out on an alcohol or drug induced bender, has taken off with a man and left them behind. Even when the family knows better.

This is not just a North American problem, it is a problem in all colonised countries with an Indigenous population.

In Australia, families are often told ‘she probably just went walkabout’. The perpetuation of negative stereotypes of the ‘savage’, the ‘drunk’ and the ‘promiscuous native’ still flood today’s society.

While these stereotypes continue to rear their ugly heads, authorities continue to disbelieve and disregard the experiences of Indigenous women all over the world. Their disregard gives Indigenous women cause to distrust the authorities and as a result these problems will not only continue, but grow.

The presentation shared some scenes from the movie: Wind River. Wind River is a 2017 neo-Western murder mystery film written and directed by Taylor Sheridan. The opening of the film, “inspired by true events”, was a reference made by the director to 'thousands of actual stories just like it' involving sexual assault of Native American women.

The film brings the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women to the fore, and to the public discourse. However, it tells the story from the perspective of the ‘hero white man’ who finds a murdered Indigenous girl’s body and saves the day. While it does deal with important issues, there’s still a long way to go in terms of how we talk about solutions.

The film depicted the violence, discrimination, loopholes in the law that are rorted, and the processes that make it so hard for Indigenous women to get justice.

There were two reactions to viewing this film. An emotional reaction, usually from those who are shocked and surprised that these things happen, then there’s the reaction of those of us who have heard the same story over and over again or have been working in the area for far too long, watching with no or very little emotion, completely desensitised.

We can rattle off the names of the women whose families have had little justice (or none) for their deaths. Ms Dhu. Lynette Daley. Pertronella Albert. Kwementyaye Murphy. Colleen Walker. Lateesha Nolan.

There’s so many more.

But something completely outside of what the main issues being talked about can get under your skin. It’s a father who has lost his daughter and is wearing his ‘death face’ (makeup or paint on the face to symbolise that you’re in grieving). He says “I had to make it up, because no one is left to teach me’.

And that hurts just as much.

There’s no justice for our Indigenous women. But more than that, there’s no one left for so many young people. Their mothers and sisters are missing or murdered, their fathers are locked up, their children are taken from them and their communities.

So many have grown up in a cycle of foster care, of mental health institutions, of prison, then facing those same cycles with their own children. And why?

Because Indigenous people are continually taken from their culture, left out in the abyss, trying to find out who they are without the support of family or Elders, and even sometimes not knowing how to connect to the land.


“We are lost. There’s so few people left to teach us our language, our dance, our traditions, and the numbers of our Elders are slowly diminishing, so we have to push to learn now or risk having to make it up”

- Keira Jenkins, Gamilaroi woman.



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