Losing the Voices of the Lost

Annita Lucchessi, a doctoral student at University of Lethbridge, has begun work compiling a database of Native women that have gone missing. 

It is a profoundly sad statistical reality that indigenous women report much higher rates of  sexual violence during their lives from the US Department of Justice -- a rate of 1 in 3 indigenous women versus 1 in 6, and both of those numbers are considered fairly low-ball figures by other organizations. The statistics regarding sexual violence against women are staggering at any degree. However, as the Connecticut Alliance to End Sexual Violence reports:

Of women who are raped in their lifetime: 17.9% are Caucasian, 11.9% are Latina, 18.8% are African-American, 34.1% are American Indian or Alaskan Native, and 6.8% are Asian or Pacific Islander. 24.4% are mixed race.
— https://endsexualviolencect.org/resources/get-the-facts/woc-stats/

The difference in degree is staggering. Some of my work involves recovering the languages of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Sahnish that are facing the threat of extinction; not necessarily extinction in a linguistic archival sense, but in the mobilized, regular use of the language which characterizes living language as such. This issue of language loss is one that deserves its own post, coming in the near future, but as I sat today thinking about the idea of what it means to lose our indigenous voices, I was re-reading and thinking about these stories and statistics regarding a more literal loss of voice, one which seems to intersect in so many ways with the complex factors which have led to the loss of indigenous languages. I was thinking about the ways the disappearance and violence committed against Native women seems to highlight some sort of racial/ethnic preference. About the effect of the unique status of tribal-national spaces in the form of the reservation system in the USA as a ripe and easily abused situation for "rape tourism." Of the incidence of intimate-partner violence for Native women both on- and off-reservation, and, of course, the history of colonialism and attempted genocide; the rates of drug and alcohol abuse; the poverty within Native communities. And on, and on. Ever tearfully on.

Part of what I find so tragic about these numbers is that it shows a clear and continued targeting of Native women for various forms of violence, and the trend has a long history. Lucchessi's database is the first of its kind to truly attempt to catalog indigenous women whom have gone missing on a broader, unified scale and put them into a single database. This has been a slow and tedious effort involving tirelessly submitting public records requests. As the NPR story also emphasizes, Lucchessi has documented more than 2,000 cases so far -- most of which are from the last 20 years. And, as Lucchessi notes:

“And really, it’s not just data,” she says. “That’s someone’s relative that’s collecting dust somewhere and no one is being held accountable to remember or honor the violence that was perpetrated against her.”
— https://www.npr.org/2018/07/21/627567789/doctoral-student-compiles-database-of-indigenous-women-who-ve-gone-missing

It should go without saying that this sort of work is incredibly valuable, and yet I would still emphasize that this should be considered part of the larger project of amplification and presencing of the lived experiences of Tribal nations and people because, even with figures so staggering, this sort of violence seems to often fly under the radar. Which is to say, it doesn't actually go without saying. It is often simply not said or heard. Lucchessi's work is about the recovery of voices lost, and it needs to be amplified and talked about. In a moment when the appallingly wide-spread acts of violence and sexual aggression against women are finally being shown the light of day, there should be enough allies and supporters that can help signal boost the plight of indigenous women in the Americas. There are similar difficulties in that there is no single cause to the problem(s), and, as a result, no easy answer. 

It seems to me that the problem is extremely complicated, difficult, and fraught with multiple poles of cause and effect, but the best way to approach these sorts of complexities is to seek out friends, allies, and those with an open mind who are willing to talk about it, and begin a serious and critical conversation about how we got here and how we can make it better going forward.

This issue demands much more time, space, and attention than this post has given it, but it is, without a doubt, the least we can do for the missing or damaged voices of our mothers, aunties, sisters, and daughters. We must keep starting (or re-starting) the flames of the conversation and continue to stoke those flames until justice, resolution, and change can occur.