According to the American Association of Universities, 47 percent of Native American women who attend University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee have reported being victims of sexual assault. In addition, in the U.S., Native women are murdered at 10 times the national average, according to the Indian Law Resource Center.
These statistics shocked me. As a Native American woman, I am fully aware of the effects that Hollywood and the
hypersexualization of the Native American woman have had on our indigenous women of generations past and future.
I was doing research on this topic for my Women, Crime and Justice class at Mount Mary University, and in coming across all the different campaigns, movements and protests in response to this issue, I was inspired to create my own: the Remembering Our Sisters movement.
This movement intention is to bring awareness about the gender-based violence that Native American women face today. It asks members to get informed and advocate for missing and murdered indigenous women, Native American women, and survivors and victims of sexual and domestic violence by pledging to wear a pin for a week of their choosing.
The campaign is most active in April, which is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, but it will continue year-round.
In creating this movement, I knew there would be intense moments or emotional engagements with pledges and survivors.
Native women are murdered at 10 times the national average.
There were a lot of humbling messages that made me cry but none like the following from a survivor I have known for more than half my life, Amanda Menore, from the Menominee Tribe in Milwaukee.
“I am in,” Lenore said. “I am not afraid anymore, I survived. I’m going to share my story, I will feel more comfortable when I have my pin … I can use it for a security blanket. Thank you for opening up doors and windows for women who been scared to talk about their story … This is one big step to a better, brighter future! It will cleanse us women from this … I will be wearing my pin and finally telling my story to the world.”
Never did I anticipate reactions like this.
My intention was to bring awareness and give a voice to those who have been silenced, but I couldn’t have fathomed the effect it has had. I didn’t anticipate something so small meaning so much.
On the other side, I also experienced blank stares and eye rolls as I presented my information and solicited pledges. Out of the four classes I attended, only one class pledged in its entirety.
I anticipated this. As I will always talk about my heritage and utilize the teachings from my elders as a foundation to teach others about my people, there will always be some who won’t listen or show no interest.
This is a part of balance, a part of life, a part of cultural differences. This is okay with me.
In these moments, I remember that I am not silenced, especially with this project. Every time someone sees one of my pins, whether they opt to pledge or not, the purpose of the pin will remain. They will remember our sisters.
Supporting Our Sisters
In recent years there have been a number of movements and campaigns formed by tribal members to bring attention and create awareness about this epidemic that is affecting Native women: No More Stolen Sisters, Walking With Our Sisters and The Red Dress Project. One of my personal favorites is a traveling art installation “Walking with Our Sisters.”
This installation is comprised of donated, decorated moccasin vamps. A moccasin vamp is the top portion of the moccasin.
These moccasin tops are a representation of the missing and murdered indigenous women over the last 30 years in Canada. There are currently 1,763 adult-sized vamps and 108 child-sized.
With this floor installation, the vamps are arranged in a winding path on the floor parallel to a piece of fabric that you walk on alongside the moccasin vamps, so you are literally “walking” with our sisters.
The unfinished moccasins are a representation of the lives that were unfinished and cut short, and the child-sized vamps are dedicated to children who never returned home from the residential schools.
The art is a tribute to these lives, a reminder that though these mothers, daughters, grandmothers, sisters, aunts, nieces, granddaughters, wives and partners are deceased or missing. They are loved, missed and will never be forgotten.
If you are interested in getting more information about Remembering Our Sisters Campaign or would like to pledge, contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Facebook: Remembering Our Sisters
A big thank you to all my current and future pledges!