HONOLULU (KHON2) — On Friday, May 5, you may see folks walking around town with a red hand painted on their face to cover their mouth. These leaders are standing in solidarity for murdered and missing indigenous women (MMIW).
What is this? This is a movement that has decided no longer to be silent about the extraordinary number of indigenous women and girls who are murdered or go missing each year.
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There is a crisis amongst the indigenous peoples of the Americas and the Pacific region. From Maine to Hawaiʻi and every place in between, indigenous women, including two-spirits and māhū, have been the target of a campaign that steals them from their peoples.
This crisis is centuries old. Indigenous women who were encountered by European colonizers were viewed as a threat to the patriarchal system that had been inherited in Europe from Rome.
In the Americas, tribes were punished if they had women or two-spirit/māhū chiefs rather than male chiefs, and women and girls were considered a commodity to be sold and traded.
“Colonization has led to the domestication of the feminine. Viewed as a dependent and subordinate person, indigenous women have had their power and their voices suppressed, subdued and completely eliminated,” said Kumu Hina, a community leader.
She went on to explain further.
“In indigenous cultures, even today, the feminine, the woman, is looked to for stability; and when this stability is taken away, their families and the entire community suffers,” added Kumu Hina.
The issue of indigenous women being murdered, abused, raped and traded as a commodity is not a new phenomenon.
Prior to 2015, few cared or even knew about the high numbers of women from Native American tribes (North, Meso- and South) and Native Hawaiian women who were murdered or missing.
“When Indigenous people go missing, we need the public to care just as much as when it happens to other demographics,” said Jennifer Varenchik, a Honolulu resident who is a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation and serves as as the Vice-President of O’ahu Native Nationz Organization.
Varenchik is also a filmmaker who created a poignant short film turned feature length production known as ‘In Our Own Hands’ that deals with the plight of murdered and missing indigenous women. In the film, native women take back their voice and their power in saving their sisters.
“Hawaiʻi has the 8th highest rate of missing persons in the United States. Talk to people; ask if they’ve heard of MMIW, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women”‘ added Varnechik. “Share with them how it’s an epidemic in the U.S. and Canada. Help spread awareness.”
A movement in 2015 that began with native tribal women in Canada has changed how the world ignores these cases.
Even with this new attention, it continues to be very difficult to locate information on how many Native Hawaiian women are murdered or go missing each year. This is why the State Legislature created H.C. R. 11. This created a task force that examines and keeps track of Missing & Murdered Native Hawaiian Women and Girls (MMNHWG) in Hawaiʻi.
It represents over 22 governmental and nongovernmental agencies who continually research the crisis and provide reports to the International Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirit (MMIWG2S) Movement. It is Co-Chaired through the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the Hawaiʻi Commission on the Status of Women.
Holoi Ā Nalo Wāhine ʻŌiwi has found that a quarter of all girls who have gone missing in Hawaii are of Native Hawaiian descent. They also state that the average profile of a missing child is a 15-year-old, female Native Hawaiian from O‘ahu, indicating that 46% of all missing person’s cases are Native Hawaiian women and girls.
Many of these missing Native Hawaiians are sold into some form of slavery. They also found that of those arrested for soliciting sex from a thirteen-year-old online through Operation Keiki Shield are active-duty military personnel.
According to the U.S. Department of the Interior Indian Affairs, in 2016, a study performed by National Institute of Justice (NIJ) discovered that over 4 out of 5 indigenous women (84.3%) have experienced violence in their lifetime. This includes a 56.1% rate of indigenous women who have experienced sexual violence.
This is four times as high as the national average where 1 in 4 women experience rape or sexual violence.
The study also found that in the year 2015 alone, there was 39.8% of indigenous women who had experienced violence. This included 14.4% who had experienced sexual violence.
This led the researchers to state that more than 1.5 million indigenous women have experienced violence in their lifetime.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention stated that the murder rate for indigenous women living on reservations is ten times higher than the national average.
It is also the third leading cause of death for Native women and girls. Most importantly, the research found that native women who live on reservations were significantly more likely to experience a rape in their lifetimes compared to other women.
A report — Violence Against American Indian and Alaska Native Women and the Criminal Justice Response: What is Known — was published in 2008. In it, the researchers said that rates of homicide victimization against indigenous women are second only to those of their African American counterparts.
And, like many other women, indigenous women are more likely to be killed by their intimate partners compared to other offenders.
It is important to be aware of the prevalence of trafficking and violence that indigenous women and girls experience. It is through this awareness that we can prepare our keiki and our wāhine to be aware of those who want to remove them from our lives and our ʻohana.
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Now that you know how prevalent the abuse and murder of indigenous women and girls has been over the centuries, you can be an advocate, too. So, take out that red paint and put a red hand on your face to stand in solidarity with MMIW.