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  • Writer's pictureItzel Santiago Pastrana

Where Are They Now? The Silent Epidemic Sweeping the Nation

Updated: Mar 25, 2021

There is a new epidemic in the United States, and it is silent and deadly. It affects women, more specifically, Indigenous women. This epidemic isn’t new; rather, it’s an issue that is new information to many due to many factors, including lack of representation in the media, lack of reporting and data collection, and lack of or mishandling of police investigations.

Indigenous women face murder rates 10-times higher than the national average and 3-times higher than non-Hispanic White Women. In a data collection of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, (hereafter, MMIWG), in 71 selected cities, Seattle, Washington had the highest number of cases at 45 and Washington State ranked second in the top 10 states at 71, only 7 cases fewer than New Mexico at 78. Research also points to the fact that many of these women were murdered at the hands of non-Native American men.

In 2019 Rosalie Fish began to dedicate her track and cross-country races to the MMIWG epidemic. Since then, she has not stopped running, both literally and figuratively, for the injustices Indigenous women are facing still to this day. When she took the stage in 2019 for her TEDxYouth Seattle, she stood tall as an activist and an advocate for Indigenous women who could not advocate for themselves, as they were taken too soon. One such woman was Renee Davis of Washington State, who in 2018 was shot and killed by King County sheriffs while five months pregnant.

Renee’s story is one of many, and like her, many Indigenous women and girls face an all too similar reality that the media and data are not reporting on. Law enforcement has not been tracking or updating data on the disappearances and murder of Indigenous women. In some cases, Indigenous women were identified and added to the data correctly, as being Indigenous and not misidentified as Asian, White, or Latinx. The reality is, there are probably thousands of more cases that exist of murdered and missing Indigenous women that we don’t know of. This did not stop activist Annita Lucchesi a few years back from creating the first database of MMIWG in North America, with so far, 3,000 cases logged, as of 2018. Unfortunately, it is estimated that there are still thousands of more cases of missing women, going back to 1900. When approaching law enforcement regarding these issues, activists have experienced hostility or lack of awareness. Typical responses from police have been that “the issue is more complicated, because it involves multiple jurisdictions.” Yet the MMIWG epidemic isn’t happening only on reservations, it’s also happening in cities, as 71% of Indigenous people live in urban areas. As activist Roxanne White once pointed out during an interview with HuffPost, law enforcement will play the blame game when it comes to protecting Indigenous women, but then they are quick to prosecute Indigenous people. In fact, the Bureau of Justice has reported that Indigenous people are incarcerated at 38% higher rates than the national average.

The lack of representation in the data creates a lack of representation in the media, which then creates a lack of awareness from outside community members. If citizens are not informed of human rights violations or injustices, they cannot gather in masses to call for change, which, in turn, creates a lack of action at the local, congressional, and state jurisdiction levels. “Stop erasing them - don’t let the children and Native American women fall through the cracks,” says Rosalie. She has learned that acknowledgment is power, and we must use our platforms so we can speak for those who have been silenced. Whether or not you feel like you have a platform, you “don't need a following before you can make a statement or make an impact, because the changes that need to be made are in our daily lives,” says Rosalie. Whether it’s speaking to your peers and family about the MMIWG epidemic or dedicating your race to MMIWG, you can be an important part of bringing justice to and ending the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

To watch Rosalie’s previous TEDxYouth Seattle talk click here.

Watch Rosalie’s most recent interview with TEDxYouth Seattle here.

Mural painted by LMNOPI from photograph taken by Brandee Paisano.

Roxanne White mural is one mural that is a part of the Indigenous People's Day project by Amplifier, Nia Tero, and IllumiNatives.

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