The Devastating Impact of Violence Against Indigenous Women and Girls on Communities and Beyond
Indigenous communities have long endured the devastating impact of violence against their women and girls, a deeply entrenched issue that reverberates far beyond their immediate boundaries. By examining the cycle of violence and its impact on indigenous communities, we can gain a deeper understanding of the urgent need to address the disparities in justice that contribute to this alarming reality. To identify improved solutions, it is imperative to examine the systemic factors and explore the lack of adequate response from law enforcement and justice systems. These factors become increasingly evident that the disproportionate rates of violence against indigenous women and girls have a profound impact on indigenous communities and the broader communities they influence, leading to a cycle of trauma, fear, and social disintegration.
The issue of Missing or Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) is a complex and multifaceted problem, as explained by Katherine A. Morton a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology at Memorial University of Newfoundland. Morton (2016) focuses her research on points of intersection between violence, indigenous identity and colonialism. Morton emphasizes the relationship between hitchhiking and violence against indigenous women in “Hitchhiking and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women: A Critical Discourse Analysis of Billboards on the Highway of Tears,” analyzing the efficacy of billboards along the Highway of Tears. There are a multitude of reasons that indigenous individuals must hitchhike as a means of transportation, but these campaigns underscore assumptions and victim blaming placed on the indigenous, particularly women and girls.
Within indigenous communities, the cycle of violence perpetuates, resulting in intergenerational trauma and social consequences. The historical marginalization and cultural erasure resulting from colonization have contributed to the vulnerability of native women and girls, making them more susceptible to violence and exploitation. According to statistics published in “Reclaiming power and place: the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls,” indigenous women and girls face disproportionately high rates of violence, whether the violence is being perpetrated by a partner or at random, indigenous people are 2.2 times more likely to report being a victim of a violent crime within the past year compared to non-indigenous people (p. 648).
While indigenous women are at increased risk of violence, their children are also more likely to be placed into foster care compared to their non-native counterparts which continues the cycle of setbacks for their communities. As highlighted in “One in Five: Disparities in Crime and Policing” published by the Sentencing Project, 17% of imprisoned individuals had spent time in the foster care system. Brown (2023), offers a deep examination of the ongoing systemic issues that highlight the role of the federal government in creating and implementing child welfare policies that continue to contribute to the separation of indigenous families that potentially expose indigenous children to greater risks of harm. In “Administrative Burden and the Reproduction of Settler Colonialism: A Case Study of the Indian Child Welfare Act” Brown shares, "Child welfare cases that proceed in state systems are far more likely to result in child removals than are cases with active tribal involvement. When burdens prevent this involvement, they reproduce settler-colonial child removal practices and undermine tribal sovereignty" (p. 245).
The disparities in justice regarding MMIWG can be attributed to systemic factors such as colonization, racism, and other disparities in resources and services. The displacement and marginalization caused by colonization have left indigenous women and girls in vulnerable positions, perpetuating the cycle of victimization and exploitation. The existence of these systemic barriers not only hinders justice but also perpetuates the cycle of violence. Concerns surrounding the importance of removing current procedural hurdles raised in “Can the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girl’s Inquiry be Reclaimed?” provide important insight into what would be valued by native communities. Skye (2018) examines the procedural challenges faced in accessing evidence and witnesses in cases related to missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, stating, “...challenge is primarily procedural and revolves around timely access to evidence and witnesses by parties with standing” (p. 2). This suggests that the legal processes and procedures established by the federal government may hinder the pursuit of justice and accountability.
In a recent investigation by ProPublica, reporters investigated the deaths of two Inupiaq women. The details revealed in “One Woman Died on an Alaska Mayor’s Property. Then Another. No One Has Ever Been Charged,” is a clear example of the insufficient response from our law enforcement and justice systems in Kotzebue. The initial investigation conducted by the Kotzebue Police Department raises serious doubts about the thoroughness and integrity of the process.
The investigations into these deaths weren’t as thoroughly conducted as pointed out by further examination. In one example, the police investigator measured the length of the rifle and compared it to the length of Kirk's arm, without conducting a more comprehensive examination specifically regarding the actual ability to pull the trigger at the angle that she had been shot. The failure to recreate the scenario and hastily close the case undermines the credibility of the investigation. According to Robert Shem, a retired firearm expert for the state crime laboratory, “I would probably try to locate somebody of the same size and build and use that rifle, or one similar to it, with the same length barrel and configuration, demonstrate that it’s completely unloaded and see if the person can lean over and potentially get their thumb in position to pull the trigger.”
Furthermore, the revelation that Kirk's body showed signs of strangulation adds another layer of complexity to the case. The fact that this information was not initially disclosed by the mayor’s youngest son, Anthony Richards and was only revealed later raises questions about the thoroughness of the interviews conducted by the investigators. The failure to thoroughly investigate the violent altercation that occurred between Kirk and Richards prior to her death is a significant oversight.
The swift conclusion of the case by the police investigator, without proper interviews or gathering of crucial information, highlights the insufficient response from our law enforcement system. The failure to file charges, even for the strangulation prior to Kirk's death, demonstrates a lack of accountability and a disregard for the pursuit of justice. This story serves as a stark reminder of the flaws within our law enforcement and justice systems. It highlights the need for thorough and unbiased investigations, as well as the importance of holding law enforcement agencies and the judicial system accountable for their actions. The safety and well-being of our community members should always be prioritized, and it is our responsibility to demand justice for victims like Jennifer Kirk.
As an individual deeply concerned about the issue of missing or murdered indigenous women and girls (MMIWG), I conducted a survey to gather insights and perceptions from a diverse group of individuals. The survey aimed to shed light on the level of awareness, understanding, and perspectives regarding this issue. The survey findings revealed a widespread lack of awareness among respondents regarding the issue of MMIWG, emphasizing the need for action and change. Respondents were asked a series of questions gauging their awareness on the severity and understanding of the topic. I had shared the survey link publicly on my Linkedin which had a possible sample size of 4,866 people. The anonymous respondents shared that their age ranges were between 25 and 54 and out of eight total, one considered themselves to be indigenous.
According to the survey, only 25% of respondents were aware of the high rates of MMIWG, indicating a lack of general awareness surrounding the issue. This finding aligns with the need for increased education and understanding among the general population. Raising public consciousness about the MMIWG crisis is crucial in promoting equity and combating this pressing issue. The survey also highlights the importance of community involvement in addressing the crisis. Three-quarters of respondents recognized the significance of community-led initiatives, emphasizing the need to empower indigenous communities. This unifying perspective on the importance of community-driven efforts supports the call for collaborative approaches to effectively address the MMIWG crisis.
The survey findings emphasize the crucial role of community-led initiatives in addressing the MMIWG crisis. Three-quarters of respondents believed that community-led initiatives are crucial, emphasizing the importance of empowering indigenous communities. This aligns with the scholarly problem, as it demonstrates a collective understanding of the significance of community involvement. It is noteworthy that no respondents voted for "No role" in the community's involvement, indicating a unifying perspective on the importance of community-driven efforts. This finding supports the need for collaborative approaches and community empowerment to address the MMIWG crisis effectively.
Additionally, the survey findings reveal skepticism about the effectiveness of law enforcement and justice systems in addressing the crisis. A third of respondents expressed doubt, calling for improvements and reforms. This skepticism underscores the need to build trust and implement necessary changes within these institutions to ensure justice for the victims and their families. With respondents indicating a general uncertainty regarding the support these communities receive from the justice system as it runs currently, reform in how these crimes are overseen would be a logical place to start.
Ultimately, the disproportionate rates of violence against indigenous women and girls have a profound impact on indigenous communities and the broader communities they influence. The cycle of violence, perpetuated by systemic factors and the insufficient response from law enforcement and justice systems, requires immediate attention and action. By addressing the immediate concerns and systemic causes of the MMIWG crisis, justice, healing, and prevention can be achieved.
A critical first step would be to empower tribal governments to oversee the investigations into all crimes committed against their citizens, granting tribal nations the same privileges as any other sovereign nation. Currently, tribal governments have inherent authority only over non-native perpetrators of domestic violence, dating violence, and violations of protection orders. However, crimes involving child abuse, sexual assault, stalking, and sex trafficking still fall under state or federal jurisdiction and unfortunately, there is a high likelihood that these courts may decline to prosecute such cases. This leaves tribes and Native women vulnerable to the persistent exploitation and abuse of these loopholes by perpetrators. A logical next step towards healing and justice would be to empower the tribal governments to have authority over all crimes against their people.
Morton, K. (2016). Hitchhiking and missing and murdered Indigenous women: A critical discourse analysis of billboards on the highway of tears. The Canadian Journal of Sociology / Cahiers Canadiens de Sociologie, 41(3), 299–326. https://doi.org/10.29173/cjs28261
The Sentencing Project. (2023). One in five: Disparities in crime and policing. The Sentencing Project. http://www.jstor.org/stable/resrep54170
Skye, C. (2018). Can the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girl’s inquiry be reclaimed? Yellowhead Institute. http://www.jstor.org/stable/resrep32633
National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (Canada), & Cochrane, Caroline. (2019). Reclaiming power and place: the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls: Vol. Volume 1a; Volume 1a; Volume 1a [Documents], 648. https://doi.org/10.1163/2210-7975_hrd-9902-2016008
Hopkins, Kyle (2023). One Woman Died on an Alaska Mayor’s Property. Then Another. No One Has Ever Been Charged. Propublica
Brown H. E. (2023). Administrative burden and the reproduction of settler colonialism: A case study of the Indian Child Welfare Act. RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences, 9(5), 232–251. https://doi.org/10.7758/rsf.2023.9.5.10