I LOVE spotlighting amazing women for you all to follow, learn from, and support. Besides thankfulness, November and the Thanksgiving holiday are often when we remember what we know of our roots, and stories of the “First Thanksgiving”. Unfortunately, the mental picture of peoples from vastly different backgrounds sharing a meal and tenuous peace is often where our understanding of Indigenous Americans ends. So this month, I have a treat for you. I am going to link you up with fantastic Indigenous women to follow and learn from. Let’s expand our understanding of and respect for these women together.
Today, I want to share just a little of what I’ve learned as background. For the last couple years I have been actively working to fill my social media feeds with people who are different from me. Originally this started out as resistance to diet culture. I wanted to follow women who looked different from me because I wanted to build new pathways of what “normal” looked like in my brain. But as I followed these other women, and started learning about their lives and struggles, it became something more.
I realized that representation doesn’t only affect our self image through showing us airbrushed and photoshopped versions of reality.
Representation shapes our communal understanding of each other.
To put it more plainly, we understand and assume that most people are like us, the people we know, and those we see represented in media and government. We have more empathy for those people because their stories and lives feel familiar.
I used to think representation wasn’t a big deal, until I started paying attention to those who I really didn’t see represented. They showed me new worlds full of perspectives and histories I had never considered.
Violence against women has been headlining lately. I’m glad to see women gaining their bite, and a movement forming. But Indigenous women have been especially vulnerable to sexual violence for centuries, due to unjust legislation and lack of priority. Non indigenous people visiting a reservation were not chargeable with crimes committed on that reservation until the VAWA act was passed in 2013. 1776 to 2013 held 237 years of crimes (against Indigenous women) that were not able to be prosecuted. As of this year, there are 5,712 missing and / or murdered Native women.
According to the Indian Law & Resource Center;
“In the United States, violence against indigenous women has reached unprecedented levels on tribal lands and in Alaska Native villages. More than 4 in 5 American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced violence, and more than 1 in 2 have experienced sexual violence. Alaska Native women continue to suffer the highest rate of forcible sexual assault and have reported rates of domestic violence up to 10 times higher than in the rest of the United States. Though available data is limited, the number of missing and murdered American Indian and Alaska Native women and the lack of a diligent and adequate federal response is extremely alarming to indigenous women, tribal governments, and communities. On some reservations, indigenous women are murdered at more than ten times the national average.”
When I first heard these numbers, it was staggering. I thought about how how most of the women that I know have experienced harassment or assault in some way, and that all of us have felt unsafe because of our gender at one point or another. Then I thought about how our “normal” could be so. much. worse. There’s knowing that female genital mutilation and gendercide are still happening on the other side of the globe, and that is terrible. It’s another thing entirely to realize the breadth and nuance of what Indigenous women are facing right here.
Here’s the thing about fighting for equity and equality. We aren’t here, til we are ALL here.
If our version of morality, faith, spirituality, or equality only works for people who look and think like us, we need to do better.
Sometimes that means coming up against hard things in ourselves. We must build the resilience to do this work.
I’m not writing this post to guilt anyone. There are myriad causes that we can (and many times should) be aware of. It can be overwhelming to absorb so much information, and if you’re an empath like me, emotionally exhausting. Resilience is my repeating mantra here.
We do what we can, with the understanding that as we learn our capacity for growth and affecting positive change will increase.
I’m going to leave you with a few really actionable and positive steps to take to improve your understanding and, if you choose, help Indigenous women gain safety.
The first thing we can do, and it’s often free, is educate ourselves. Amnesty USA has a PDF explaining the nuance in legislation that vastly contributes to Indigenous women’s lack of safety.
There are non-profits run by Indigenous peoples to combat violence against Indigenous women like
Native Womens Wilderness is a Native run initiative that inspires and raises the voices of Native Women in the Outdoor Realm. They encourage a healthy lifestyle grounded in the Wilderness, and educate Natives and non-Natives on the rich beauty and heritage of the Ancestral Lands beneath our feet. (adapted from Native Womens Wilderness mission statement.)
The White Buffalo Calf Woman Society is committed to providing shelter and advocacy for individuals victimized by violence. They recognize the necessity of a multi-faceted approach –the need to develop an effective response to systems in our community such as health, criminal justice, and other institutions that minimize violence against woman. They also believe it is necessary to raise community awareness by naming what has happened to them as indigenous women. At the same time, they recognize that responding to systems may or may not make significant institutional changes that will stop violence against women. Therefore, they are also dedicated to exploring and creating actions that will move us toward a social transformation that will allow equity for women.
(Adapted from The White Buffalo Calf Woman Society Facebook page)
Mending the Sacred Hoop grew out of regional organizing efforts and a Native women’s advocacy and support group for survivors of domestic violence in Duluth, MN in the 1980s. They began as a Native program operating within the Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs (DAIP), with the goal of changing the way systems and service people respond to American Indian people. Their first funded project was conducting systems advocacy and intervention: organizing a Coordinated Community Response (CCR) to domestic violence with Carlton County and the Fond du Lac Reservation in northeastern Minnesota.
(Adapted from Mending The Sacred Hoop Website)
The Mission of National Indigenous Womens Resource Center is to support and uphold grassroots advocacy by creating and enhancing the capacity of Native communities to end gender based violence through technical assistance, education, public awareness and policy development. NIWRC’s vision is to restore safety of Native women and their communities by upholding the inherent sovereignty of Indigenous Peoples. (from NIWRC website)
Native Hope believes in the power of storytelling to dismantle barriers, bring healing, and inspire hope for Native people. Why? Because telling stories of Native struggle and Native strength is a powerful catalyst for unity, generational healing, and personal growth. Each of us has an evolving story which no one else can write. Native Hope believe that healing for Native people starts with a vulnerable recounting of where one has been, where one is today, and where one wants to be tomorrow. That's why we tell stories. (adapted from Native Hope website)
Taking positive action can look like reading these (and other) websites, subscribing to their newsletters, and financially supporting them.
We can expand our mindsets by purposely following, supporting, and learning from Indigenous peoples on social media.
We can respect the sacred things in Indigenous culture, and abstain from degrading them to the level of personal trinkets.
We can make sure that if we buy clothing, jewelry, or household items featuring patterns from Indigenous culture, that they are made by (and the profits of the sale go to) Indigenous artisans.
We can allow the perspectives and histories of the Indigenous communities to show us their communal narratives, teach us, and broaden our mindsets.
If you've read any of my work, you know I'm all about building up other women and boosting their signals. The belief that drives this for me is a conviction that we all need each others gifts. We are not whole, until we are all whole. We haven't arrived until we all have arrived.
We are not safe until we are all safe.
I have just started my journey of learning about and from Indigenous communities and cultures. This post is not about me or my experience. This post is an arrow to the communities and women that I am learning from, so that we can grow together.
Megan is a writer and creator from Wallingford, CT. She is passionate about empowering women to step into the full power and identity they were created to embrace and claim.