Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Red Dress Project story - a guest feature by Janet Callahan

Sometimes, this column will feature guest writers.  This is one of those times.  Janet Callahan is a esteemed writer, activist, and extraordinary woman.  She has graciously allowed me to share some of her writing on a  powerful topic in this space.  This is her story.

There is a secret epidemic in the United States and in Canada, though only Canada is currently receiving global attention for it.
The epidemic is that of violence against Native/Indigenous women.

A Native American woman in the US is, on average, more likely to be a victim of physical assault (almost 2/3 of them report abuse) [1] than the average American woman, and nearly twice as likely as the average American woman to be a victim of sexual assault in her lifetime [2]. On some reservations, women are 10 times more likely to be murdered than the national average [1].
But beyond all that, the issue of murdered and missing indigenous women has become an issue for the UN. In Canada, a recent study shows there are just less than 1200 missing and/or murdered women whose cases are unsolved since 1952 [3]. First Nations and Inuit women make up only 4% of Canada’s population, but make up 16% of murders [4].

Even when an actress who has “made it” disappears, it much the same – no one looks for her, she barely makes the news, and her death is brushed aside as a non-issue, her body only found because her family insisted on looking for her. [5] She, too, reported having been raped as a child.
It’s not just Native women on reservations that face this violence – urban Indians, too, are often seen as exotic, and prostitution is presented to them as a way out of poverty and other unpleasant circumstances [6].

While looking up statistics for this article, I ran across statistics for Australian Aboriginal women, who turn out to be 31 times more likely to be hospitalized due to injuries from assaults than other Australian women. [7]

So, one might ask, what is being done about this? 

Since the various governments involved seem incapable of solving the problem themselves, Native women are taking on the task of awareness.

The Red Dress Project [8] is presented by an artist in Canada, who seeks to place red dresses across Canada to remind viewers of missing women. Sing Our Rivers Red [9] is a similar US based project, where single earrings represent the missing, and specifically calls attention to the fact that those standing in the intersection of LGBTQQIA issues and violence against Native women are equally at risk (probably moreso, since they are more likely the targets of gender/orientation based bias to begin with).

From a more personal standpoint: I am Native American (my mom’s side of the family is Lakota, my dad’s side of the family is German), I am an enrolled member of my tribe. Of the women in my family who are my mother’s generation and my grandmother’s generation, I know that at least half, and probably more, were victims of violence. Of my generation, again, at least half of us, possibly more, have been victims – and I’m among the oldest of us. Some of us have children now, and some of them have already been victims, before even graduating high school. Somehow, this cycle of violence has to stop.

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