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Photograph by Ne-Dah-Ness Rose Greene

Editor’s Note: This essay was submitted by the Native American Women’s Empowerment Campaign (NAWEC), an online effort to celebrate and empower Native American women. Additionally, NAWEC seeks to create awareness and provide education regarding Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. The photographs served as inspiration for this essay.

From the moment an Indigenous woman is cast into this world, screaming for her mother’s love, there is a bullseye painted on to her back. It is not wanted, but it is placed there by the cruelty of an earth destroyed by the evil that lurks in the shadows of destruction. She is born fighting, kicking away to find a safe place to lay her footprints, and make her mark on the world.

She is a warrior; she is a sonnet of unmatched strength; and she is rare. There’s a natural beauty associated with women of first nation’s ancestry that cannot be replicated; long flowing black hair, eyes of brown that reflect the sunlight in the most precious ways. Her naturally tanned skin is a blank tapestry holding the stories of many generations, each one with their own amount of repressed trauma.

Each story is a twisted tale of both survival, and pain.

Perhaps in writing this for you, I hope to bring forth the voice that is not heard when it calls out for help. Perhaps I would like to bring back to life the voice silenced by the evil deeds of those set to destroy innocence, the voice that was stilled.

I would like to give recognition to those that have not yet been brought home, I would like to acknowledge those who are still with us; but are being hurt. They have a story, and they are loved, and they were stolen from us.

What makes an Indigenous woman who she is? Is it the way she carries herself with such admiration, and strength? Perhaps it is the warrior blood that runs through her very veins, and the amount of survival that is built into her heart. She is love, she is pain, and she has a fire inside her passionate heart that no matter how wounded still beats with a great sense of pride, and dignity. You see she is all of those, and more. She is our sister; she is our mother, our grandmother, our cousin, our friend, and she is every Indigenous woman who has ever graced this earth.

There is a stigma attached to being a first nation’s woman. We are the life bringers, and we are the nurturers; but we are also targets for the beauty that is both our spirit, and our face. Four out of five of our women are, or will be affected by some sort of violence. It may be of a particular heinous nature; they may be beaten so cruelly by their spouses, they may be raped, they may be murdered.

Our reservations are plagued by this fact; they are riddled with domestic violence amongst the other deadly spirits that roam about feeding on troubled souls. They are being invaded by terrible people hell bent on stealing us from our families. Our voices are not only stolen from us, but it is also repressed by a lack of help from law enforcement.

It is mostly up to our family’s left behind to find our empty shell ravaged by evil. It is mostly left up to our fathers, our brothers, our uncles to bring us home again; and it pains me deeply to say that most of the time they cannot bring us home, most of the time they must mourn our pictures left in a frame.

Our stolen sisters did not die in vain; our missing sisters did not fall off of the face of the earth. Though their physical presence has left us in deep grief, their stories did not get stolen with them. Their strength, their gracious courage did not crumble away like an old forgotten wall. We hear their lost voices in the morning songs of the birds that sing upon the dewy grass; their touch is the warmth of a spring day with a kissing breeze upon our faces, their hair flows like the cooling dance of the water’s mighty edge, and the tears will wash away the stain of stigmas; we find their love within our own hearts.

We stand for them, and we wear red to symbolize their life. It is within the actions of those left behind that the sisters we long for may live again; their faces will remain engraved within our memories, their voices heard in the beating of our hearts, their stories will be told throughout many generations beyond our time. We are strength, and something must ignite it. We will walk through the fires of woe, and we will remain beautiful in every way. That’s that magic in stories, and through ours we will remain.

Catty Haugen (Leech Lake Ojibwe) is a freelance writer and poet, who lives on the Leech Lake Indian Reservation in northern Minnesota with her three children.

Ne-Dah-Ness Rose Greene is a photographer and founder of the NAWEC.

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