Four out of five Native women encounter violence today according to the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women. Although the U.S. Department of Justice reports that Indigenous women face murder rates that are more than 10 times the national average, families of those missing or murdered say NO JUSTICE is being sought for women, men, children, trans persons and those identifying as two spirit.
We, at Women AdvaNCe stand with families calling for transparency at the state, local and national level. On May 5th Governor Roy Cooper declared a day of awareness for almost 100 unsolved murders in North Carolina, which is home to more than 120,000 Native Americans, the largest population east of the Mississippi River.
We stand with families that say that proclamations are welcome but words alone are not enough. Shatter the Silence, a movement founded by families of missing and murdered individuals in the eastern part of the state, has developed a petition to hold law enforcement and local governments accountable for investigations and providing access to information.
The Robeson County group was formed by friends and family of Christina Bennett, 32, and Rhonda Jones, 36, both were found dead on April 18, 2017. Bennett’s remains were found inside an abandoned home, Jones’s body was discovered in a nearby trash can. Megan Oxendine (a friend of Jones) was interviewed about her death at the time. Three weeks later, Oxendine’s naked body was found dumped in a nearby area. Lumberton Police initially reported the deaths, within a month’s time frame and a three-block radius, as unrelated according to the Robesonian. Police say they have not yet been able to determine how each of the women were killed and have refused in at least Jones’s case to say they were murdered.
Shelia Price, mother of Rhonda Jones, started Shatter the Silence and recently created a petition to demand action from officials of Robeson County. She writes:
“We have too many unsolved murders here. We have too much unfair JUSTICE here. These families need answers and closure. When evidence sits on a shelf for 21 months, it’s definitely time for a change. My daughter was murdered along with two more girls and all three deaths came back undetermined cause of death. We need help.”
Sadly, the lack of urgency and transparency with cases involving Missing and Murdered Indigenous People are not unusual. According to national reports from the Urban Indian Health Institute (UIHI) we are missing key data due to misclassifications and law enforcement is uncooperative. Investigative reporter Jen Deerinwater, executive director and founder of Crushing Colonialism, highlights law enforcement and the U.S. government’s failure to report and respond in No One Knows How Many Indigenous Women Are Missing or Murdered. Deerinwater wrote: “They found that many MMIW weren’t being properly counted by law enforcement, making it difficult to advocate for policy to help bring an end to this violence. Media coverage was also found to be abysmal, resulting in a lack of public awareness.”
Organizer Crystal CA Cavalier says now is the time for action. The Alamance County based member of the Occaneechi Band of Saponi nation co-organized a statewide march to demand justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. Shortly after the march, she began being bullied by members of the community, and even received death threats.
Some have pointed to tribal protections as a reason for the lack of prosecution but according to the National Congress of American Indians Policy Research Center, Indigenious women experience violence more commonly by non-Native perpetrators.
A 2016 report by the National Institute of Justice entitled “ Violence Against American Indian and Alaska Native Women and Men: 2010 Findings From the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey” stated that 96% of victims identified as female victims of sexual violence experienced violence at the hands of a non-Native perpetrator. More than 4 in 5 victims identified as women (89 percent) experienced stalking by a non-Native perpetrator.
Activists say that we must stand with these families in demanding justice and accountability. “The sad reality is that while we as Indigenous people know what’s happening to our women, children and Two Spirits, we simply don’t have the hard numbers,” Deerinwater explained. “Without those, policy changes within any branch of the U.S. government become near impossible. These numbers matter. Our lives matter. The collection of data is an act of resistance against Native genocide and one we all must be dedicated to.”
Let’s stand with families in demanding justice! You can start by signing this petition.
The StrongHearts Native Helpline is a safe, domestic violence and dating violence helpline that offers culturally-appropriate support and advocacy daily from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. CT. Anonymous and confidential. The National Domestic Violence Hotline can help victims, survivors of domestic violence. Call 1-800-799-7233.
In celebration of Native American Heritage Month (November 2019), Women AdvaNCe is seeking native identifying women to write for us on issues of identity, violence (physical, sexual, missing persons), lack of representation, and more. If you are interested in writing, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Antionette Kerr is a nonprofit leader, media correspondent, author of Modern Media Relations for Nonprofits, publisher of Bold & Bright Media and lover of all poetry. Native of Lexington, NC, she spent her youth living in pockets of economically-distressed neighborhoods. She went on to study journalism and African American history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she began researching and writing about the influence of race, gender, and politics. Kerr has provided training for the National Council of Nonprofits, The Nonprofit Marketing Guide and The Nonprofit Academy.