Fort Yates, N.D. — Two weeks ago, we lost yet another Indigenous sister, daughter, mother, and friend. Savanna Lafontaine-Greywind became the latest in what has become a horrific epidemic amongst Indigenous communities in North America. The vulnerability and targeting of our Native women is undeniable, and we must begin looking for new ways to urgently address this plague of violence and disregard.
There are many factors that lead to the unfair targeting of our women. One of the most significant factors is the glaring absence of Indigenous peoples in the North American consciousness. Many people do not know of our continued existence, or the special relationship with other governments that shapes our daily lives. Accurate statistics aren’t gathered in our communities and so we are often left out of opportunities for dialogue and for programming.
This marginalization of our communities extends to lack of law enforcement investment, not only financially but in the will of enforcement agencies to commit to the standard of effort that they would in non-Indian communities. Perpetrators are very much aware of the general lack of law enforcement presence or interest in pursuing these cases, and again we lack the sufficient statistics to compel them. We can only estimate how many Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women there are, and it is all but guaranteed that the estimates are far too low. The invisibility of our humanity in this country is literally killing our women; they are offered up as easy prey and their disappearances are often lacking consequences for the perpetrators.
It is also undeniable that extractive industries create scenarios where we see an obvious uptick in these incidents occurring. In North Dakota, we have endured the consequences of Man Camps for years. The rise in crime and drugs and the horrible crimes against women—rape, sex trafficking, and many murdered or missing. And now we face a political climate where we are seeing both less respect for tribal sovereignty and authority in combination with the promise of a dramatic increase in extraction of fossil fuels.
What can we do? First and foremost—we can’t stop talking about it. We saw with the movement here at Standing Rock that creating a relentless public dialogue really does result in education and engagement of those who might not otherwise be aware. Two thousand people gathered in Fargo, hundreds gathered in Bismarck, hundreds came together in Cannon Ball last night and again today in Fort Yates. As we collectively reel from Savanna’s loss, the people are coming together like never before to honor this young woman, find comfort as human beings, and to take a hard look at what we can each do individually.
Decision makers have to respond to the masses when our voices are unified and consistent, and loud. We must work with local and federal law enforcement agencies to get them to see that this is a serious problem more prevalent for Native women than others that deserves a collaborative and creative solution.
Finally, we must start in our own homes. At a local level, it heartens me to see young men having genuine conversations about how they can better support and protect the women of their communities. We must treat our wives, daughters, girlfriends, and mothers with the respect they deserve as the givers of life and as protectors. If we do not create safe environments for our women they are more likely to find themselves in unsafe scenarios elsewhere, and they may not feel the confidence or self worth that they deserve to have instilled in them by their families, friends, and partners. Let us treat them how everyone should treat them. Protect our women by respecting them, and then we will lead the way in ensuring that outside communities must do this as well. Our voices will be heard and our women will not remain ignored.
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Statement by Chairman Archambault Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
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Steve Sitting Bear