One of MMIW campaign billboards.
Published June 8, 2018
BILLINGS, Mont. — In a public demonstration of its commitment to embracing proactive measures to combat the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women (MMIW) tragedy that continues to devastate families and communities throughout Indian Country, leaders of the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council (RMTLC) expressed strong-support for a proposed North American MMIW campaign conceptualized by the Global Indigenous Council.
The event, held during the RMTLC’s just-concluded quarterly meeting, took place in Sword’s Park on the Rimrocks overlooking Billings and the Yellowstone River. Tribal chairmen, presidents, and councilpersons from Montana, Wyoming and Idaho-based nations gathered to formally welcome the Piikani Nation of the Blackfoot Confederacy into the RMTLC, and after presenting the tribe’s flag, Chief of the Piikani Nation, Stan Grier, dedicated his address to the victims of the MMIW tragedy.
“The location for this ceremony was not chosen randomly,” said Grier. “On May 31, 1823, the economic interests of Manuel Lisa’s old trading company on the Upper Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers were effectively ended by Blackfoot protectors of our way of life.” Chief Grier recounted how Manuel Lisa was a slave trader who later aspired to dominate trade with tribal nations on the Missouri River. Lisa provided support to Lewis and Clark, and the successful return of the Corps of Discovery enabled him to launch his commercial offensive.
Chairmen, Presidents, Chiefs and Council Members of the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council
“It is recorded that Sacagawea endured a stint at Fort Manuel on the Missouri,” said Grier, of the revered Lemhi Shoshone woman’s experience, post-Lewis and Clark. Grier described it as a “tragic irony” that Sacagawea is one of the few indigenous women non-tribal people on this continent recognize, yet do not realize that her experiences in the early 1800s parallel those of MMIW victims today. “When Toussaint Charbonneau ‘purchased’ her at age 12 or 13, Sacagawea was in the age range that many indigenous girls are today, who become victims in the tragedy now abbreviated to ‘MMIW’ – Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women,” he said, and emphasized that she was six-months pregnant “at approximately fifteen-and-a-half-years-old.”
Global Indigenous Council Chief Brandon Sazue
As Grier spoke, Piikani councilmen Brian Jackson and Ferlin Crow Shoe unveiled campaign visuals commissioned by the Global Indigenous Council. The stunning imagery moved some in the crowd to tears, the impact of the stark and powerful message embodying the tragedy that stalks Indian Country on both sides of the border but is largely overlooked in mainstream society.
“The Piikani Nation is taking this opportunity to urge our sister tribes in the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council and the Assembly of First Nations to stand with us and begin the process of making this tragedy impossible to ignore. The Piikani Nation is adopting this campaign. From billboards on our Nation and in neighboring communities, this imagery and message will contribute to bringing the MMIW tragedy to the fore in the public conscience,” Grier announced.
Chief Councilor of the Global Indigenous Council, Brandon Sazue, appealed for tribal leaders to “unify, to do something for our women and children, for the young boys and girls, and those with Two Spirits, who are being taken from us.” Sazue said it was time for action, not more commissions. “As leaders, we cannot give speeches about our women being sacred, the givers of life, and then do nothing when the speech is over,” he continued. “The more exposure to this campaign, the greater the impact – let us all commit to this endeavor and speak in one voice for those who have been silenced, and those who continue to suffer in silence,” Sazue implored.
Elder Jim Swag and Councilor Barnaby Provost of the Pikani Nation open the ceremony.
Founded by a resolution of the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association last February, the Global Indigenous Council (GIC) already has members from the Americas to Australasia. It has published a manifesto, contributed to the forthcoming documentary “Remaking the Sacred Hoop,” presented official declarations on behalf of 130 tribes to the State of Wyoming opposing its trophy hunt of the sacred grizzly bear, and has formulated a now operational ID card “to provide primary tribal and sovereign status to tribes and those tribal people with no nation, state, territorial or provincial official identification of standing.” As stated in founding GIC resolutions: “Many tribes outside of North America do not have the legal standing afforded by treaties with colonial, nation-states. As a result, the sovereignty of those tribes is consistently threatened, and the rights of those tribal citizens are routinely undermined or ignored, due to a lack of documented legal status.”
Crow Nation Chairman AJ Not Afraid, Northern Cheyenne President L. Jace Killsback, and Northern Arapaho Chairman Roy Brown, all expressed support for the MMIW campaign, which also includes a proposal to establish dedicated MMIW tribal liaison offices to bridge the divide between law enforcement agencies and tribal members. The liaison offices, said Chief Councilor Sazue, are vital, due to “a lack of effective cooperation between law enforcement agencies, and the status-quo of jurisdictional paralysis. The trust and confidence of Native communities in law enforcement must be addressed and improved. Concurrently, more responsive and effective support systems for victims’ families are essential.” Chairman Clint Wagon of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe noted that the movie “Wind River” had drawn attention to the crisis in his nation’s territory.
“There exists a sickening parallel hemisphere-wide between the rape and destruction of the earth, and the rape and murder of indigenous women,” continued Chief Grier. “As a former RCMP officer, I can confirm that in Canada, between 1980 and 2012, some 1,181 Indigenous women went missing or were known to have been murdered. In Canada, Native women are six times more likely to be the victims of homicide than non-Native women. On some reservations in the US, Native women are murdered at a rate ten times the national average, and 84% of Native women have endured assaults in their lifetimes. The preponderance of assailants who prey on Native women have something in common: they are not Native. According to the US Department of Justice, 86% of all reported sex crimes against Native women are perpetrated by non-Natives,” he said.
The Global Indigenous Council manifesto can be found at www.globalindigenous council.com
(Photos and MMIW visuals © Alter-Native Media.)