by Chloe Collyer
May 5 was the annual day to honor Hanna Harris and the movement for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW). Harris (Northern Cheyenne) was a 21-year-old new mother who was murdered in July of 2013. What sounds like a plot to a psychological thriller is a daily reality for the families of over 5800 missing and murdered Indigenous women in North America.
This is why on Saturday, May 15, the Seattle community is being called to gather at Be’er Sheva Park in the Rainier Beach neighborhood to march in solidarity with all victims of gender-based violence and their families. Relatives of victims will be flying into town from across the hemisphere for this special event led and coordinated by Native women.
According to the national Institute of Justice more than 83% of Native Americans have experienced some form of violence in their lifetime. Many Indigenous activists have traced these patterns of violence back to colonial oppression, and modern instances of sexual violence against women are seen at “man camps” near reservations and pipelines. Unfortunately by some counts, Washington State has the highest occurrences of MMIW, which is one reason why local activist Roxanne White (Nez Perce, Yakama, Nooksack, Gros Ventre) has dedicated her life to supporting the victims’ families.
Like many acronyms #MMIW is evolving with the times. What started as “Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women” (MMIW) is now being written as MMIWG (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls), MMIP (Missing/Murdered Indigenous People) or #MMIWG2S (missing and murdered womxn, girls, and two-spirit). No matter the age or gender, one thing is clear: there is a pandemic of violence against Indigenous women and femmes.
If missing young people still went on milk cartons, maybe we would know these names:
Rosenda Strong, Kaylee Mae Nelson-Jerry, Eveona Lakota Cortez, Elias Chief Culps, and Mary E Johnson.
In a time where it may seem difficult to keep up with all the injustice in the world, many current struggles in the news have been traced back to western imperialism and colonization.
“We see what’s happening in Sheikh Jarrah, Haiti, East Africa, Columbia, and South America and what’s happening in our communities right now here in Seattle … everything’s connected,” says South Seattle artist and activist Jerrell Davis.
It is for this reason that Saturday’s march will be held in the South End and called a “Solidarity Prayer Walk.” By holding the event in South Seattle, organizers hope to showcase the intersectional struggle of all women and femmes across the globe.
“South Seattle is obviously a place that originally was indigenous … and this is a neighborhood that still has indigenous folks,” Davis continues. “… and we also have people that are missing … It’s a happening that connects our communities. While the South End is changing so much — it’s pretty obvious that the emphasis isn’t on finding our missing loved ones but on perpetuating and exacerbating the conditions that even create those types of situations.”
“The Black community, indigenous community, immigrant community has made this neighborhood what it is. [They] are being displaced not only violently but also passively displaced. Intentionally displaced … this is the effect of an intentional agenda to disrupt our communities.”
“Land acknowledgements have become a staple in Seattle culture, but what does it really mean to stand in solidarity with indigeous folks and change your lifestyle because of the solidarity? That’s what Seattle has yet to prove.”
Chloe Collyer (they/them) is a Seattle-born photographer, photojournalist, and photo educator whose work is deeply connected to the history and marginalized communities of the Pacific Northwest. For the past decade, Chloe has taught photography to youth while freelancing for local and national editorial clients.
Featured image: The 2017 Women’s March in Seattle, WA (Photo: Chloe Collyer)
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