Protect Indigenous Women
MATIKA WILBUR: Hello, relatives, welcome back to another episode of All My Relations. I'm Matika Wilbur and thank you so much for joining us. The following is a trigger warning. This episode contains conversation about rape, domestic violence, substance abuse, suicide and murder that some listeners may find disturbing and it may not be suitable for younger audiences. It's an understatement to say that this episode is a tear-jerker. We acknowledge the deep psychic spiritual wounds that have been violently inflicted upon our bodies and spirits that forever changed the foundation of our identities and cultures. We invite you to take a moment to make some space for yourself, smudge, light a candle, do whatever it is that you need to do to hold space. But know that right now I'm burning sweetgrass for you and all those past and present that have experienced violence in their lifetime. In their memory and honor, let's take a moment of silence.
DESI SMALL-RODRIGUEZ: Hi, everyone. Dr. Dr. Desi here, so we are releasing this episode today because May 5th is National Awareness Day for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. A resolution was passed by the United States Congress, which declared May 5th, the day to honor the life of Hanna Harris, who was a Northern Cheyenne tribal citizen. She was from my home community in Lame Deer, Montana. And on July 3rd, 2013, Hanna left home to see fireworks and she never returned. Her badly beaten body was discovered on July 8th near our local rodeo grounds. And I want to acknowledge the Harris family, who fought tirelessly for justice for Hanna and who continue to fight for justice for many missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls across the country. Hanna would have been celebrating her 29th birthday today.
MATIKA: Mmm. You know, violence is very real in Indian country. The most quoted report that we've all heard over and over and over again is the one in three, which is one in three Native women will be raped in her lifetime. And that statement that I've been hearing for a really long time, we've all been hearing it for a long time, is from the 1998 Department of Justice report, which looks at the National Violence Against Women survey. But, you know, and the truth is, it's been discussed by everybody, right? Like The New York Times, The Washington Post, even Obama when he was president, he quoted that one in three survey and he said that it's an assault on our national conscience. It's an affront to our shared humanity. It's something that we cannot allow to continue. But, you know, that data is 25 years old. And you, Dr. Dr. Des being a survey gal, maybe you can explain to us how that's a problem and what some of the new information says?
DESI: Yeah, I mean, we know the data are old, right? And yet it continues to be quoted and it continues to be used in media and policy. Right. And the problem is that there hasn't been another report done by the federal government on this scale ever since. And it literally took two Indigenous women to create a new report in 2018. This was the Urban Indian Health Institute and the Sovereign Bodies Institute who came together to create a new report with data that had to be obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. So the federal government isn't just giving these data over to Indigenous people and our advocates and allies. We actually have to go through a petition to get these data to be able to use them. And so that's, you know, the fact that there isn't transparency, accountability in the data that are being collected about our people is a huge problem. And so this this 2018 report was huge. It's still huge. It, you know, had this massive impact across the country to policymakers and legislators at every level. And this report identified 5,712 cases of missing American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls. So these are reports, OK, reports of them being missing. But do you know how many of those cases were actually logged into the United States Department of Justice's federal missing persons database? Only 116. So literally only two percent of these cases of missing American Indian and Alaska Native women were even logged into a federal database. And so, again, tells us the magnitude of the data problem, the pervasive erasure that that that is just so profound.
MATIKA: Mm hmm. But why does the data matter in this case?
DESI: The data matters because if we don't have the data on our people, we can't actually communicate with any sort of evidence to the people in power. The data are power. And so if we don't have data on our people and it's not accurate, then essentially our problem doesn't exist. This problem doesn't exist.
MATIKA: Mmm. Right, so with national media attention, with presidential attention, even with the data, we know that the reality isn't shifting. In fact, it's getting worse. And there have been some major wins in the last 15 years. Right. With VAWA, the Violence Against Women Act. And there was major confusion over that act. But basically what we know is that for a really long time, violent crimes were happening towards Native women and we didn't have the ability in our tribal territories and our tribal homelands to prosecute non-Indians. So in 2013, it shifted. We were able to prosecute non-Natives. But there was this like it was explicitly limited to violence committed by spouses, former spouses or dating partners. So consequently, women who are raped by persons within other relationships, for example, acquaintances or relatives or strangers. They're not covered by the that legislative change. And authority over such crimes requires Congress to enact additional reforms to federal law. So right now, VAWA is being reformed and was recently passed by the House of Representatives on Wednesday, March 17th, by a vote of 244 to 172. And so the act, if passed, would add numerous protections for Native women, including the expansion of scenarios where a federally recognized tribe would have jurisdiction over a non-Indian perpetrator. So past versions of the act covered crimes of domestic violence and dating violence. And this version as obstruction of justice, sexual violence, sex trafficking, stalking and assault of law enforcement.
DESI: So the point is, contact your senators. We need this reform passed and it's being held up in the Senate. So that's that's critical. Right. There was also the passage of Savanna’s Act in September of 2020. And so this is a bill that requires the Department of Justice to strengthen training and coordination and data collection and other guidelines related to cases of missing and murdered Indigenous people. But that's not without its complications either. And we'll discuss that later. There's also Deb Haalandsʻs new missing and murdered unit in the Department of the Interior, which provides cross departmental and interagency leadership involving MMIW cases. And this unit also puts the full weight of the federal government into investigating these cases across federal agencies all throughout Indian country. And this is huge because it is actually requiring agencies to work together and to be accountable for the first time ever on these cases. So how did we even get here? Why do we need these special laws, task forces and Senate hearings?
MATIKA: Mmm. You know, I really love the point that Sarah Deer makes in her book, The Beginning and End of Rape Culture: Confronting Sexual Violence in Native America. She says that America is founded in rape culture. You know, we take, for instance, Christopher Columbus, the iconic symbol of colonization, who actually bragged about raping Indigenous women in his in his journals. And Sarah says it's an extremely important acknowledgment because it exemplifies the logic of colonists who would continue to deploy rape as a tool of conquest. And she says the historian Albert Hurtado notes of the 19th century gold rush quote, Part of the invading population was imbued with a conquest mentality, fear and hatred of Indians that in their minds justified the rape of Indian women, end quote. And this rape culture didn't begin and end in the founding of this country. Native women experienced the trauma of rape as an ongoing violence that spans generations.
DESI: Absolutely. And this rape culture is also being perpetrated against Indigenous people, by Indigenous people. So we know we had rape in our societies, pre colonization too. Our societies weren't these like panaceas where everything was fantastic. But definitely we did not have rape to the extent to which the colonizers introduced. And, you know, the main point of difference, I believe, is that tribal societies restored balance and healing. And so I want to give a Cheyenne story that I've often discussed with my mom, who's an attorney, and she led the fight to get my tribe's first sexual assault law passed. And so prior to invasion, when a Cheyenne person was raped or assaulted, the goal of my tribe's society was to restore power to the survivor. And so the survivor and their family were able to go and take back their power by literally taking whatever they wanted from the perpetrator's home. And they could even burn the teepee. And our military societies could also take action by having a public shaming and that often included whipping and the perpetrator would be banished from the tribe for a period of time. And so the point was that restoring power to the survivor required a public action. And I feel like we are facing a very similar need today. We need public action to restore power to Indigenous survivors.
MATIKA: Mm. Yeah. Indigenous restorative justice. We need it. Right well, we have a lot to talk about. So let's just jump into the episode today. We have two wonderful guests, Mary Kathryn Nagle, who you might have actually just seen in The New Yorker. She's an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, a playwright and partner at Pipestem Law and the executive director of the Yale Indigenous Performing Arts Program.
DESI: We also have Abigail Echohawk joining us, who you might have just seen in Vogue magazine. I mean, these are amazing Native woman. Abigail is an enrolled member of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma. She's the chief research officer for the Seattle Indian Health Board. And she also serves as the director of the Urban Indian Health Institute, which is a tribal epidemiology center.
MATIKA: Let's start by asking you both to introduce yourselves, as you would, to a large group of people, and let me just, of course, say thank you so much for being here [speaking Native language] I appreciate you and the work that you do and when you introduce yourselves, could you also just reflect a bit on the term, all my relations, what it means to you and go ahead, MK.
MARY KATHRYN NAGLE: Sure. Good afternoon. Good morning. Good evening. Depending on where you are in the world. My name is Mary Kathryn Nagle. I'm a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, which is a tribe today located in Oklahoma. Historically, my family, before forced removal in our nation was was in several areas that are now like Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina, but my family specifically was living in what is now northern Georgia. Today, I live in Northern Virginia, just outside of D.C., on the traditional homelands of the Piscataway and the Powhatan. And I am an attorney and a playwright. And as an attorney, I work at a small law firm called Pipestem Law. We're based in D.C. and in Tulsa, Oklahoma. And our focus is on restoring sovereignty and tribal jurisdiction and safety for Native women. So we do a lot of things that relate to safety for Native women. Some of them are filing briefs. Sometimes we write letters to the FBI and ask them why they're not doing their job. You know, it's sort of all of the above. And and that's that's sort of the experience that I carry with me. So thank you so much for having me. And so, you know, I understand that to be derivative of a Lakota saying and respect that very much and I think a lot of folks in Indian country say that in Oklahoma, too where I'm from and I understand that to me, when I hear people say that in Indian country, we very much understand that we're all related and that relationship, kinship isn't isn't as transactional as it might be in the non-Native world. And that's that's how we've traditionally formed our communities, our culture, our systems of governance. And I think for that reason, traditionally, our nations were quite strong and have been quite strong. And I think that's one of the reasons why the United States government and its efforts attacked those relationships of kinship and told us that we couldn't believe in all my relations. And I think when we do this work, which you refer to as rematriation, which I love and I think is a very, very powerful term, you know, it's not lost on me that a lot of our societies are traditionally matrilineal, which is not to create any kind of hierarchical understanding of gender, but is to certainly offer a different perspective than the way in which kinship, in a very patriarchal sense, is promoted in sort of the non-Native American society. And so I think that the task before us does require all of us. And what we do impacts all of us. Everything everything has a ripple effect. And I think traditionally as Native people, we understand that. And I think we can see that. And that's that's how we're able to understand why there are such high levels of violence against Native women and Native peoples today. It's because it is all related and you can't you can't separate it into these different buckets. So so thank you.
ABIGAIL ECHOHAWK: Dang, how do I beat that? I'm Abigail Echohawk. I'm an enrolled citizen of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma on my father's side. But I was born and raised in the heart of Alaska among my mother's people, the Upper Ahtna Athabascan people of Mentasta and I was raised in Delta Junction, Alaska. So my mother is one of the adopted children of the matriarch Katie John of Mentasta Village, and we are very blessed to have been welcomed into that tribal community. Growing up in Alaska, I was so blessed to see these strong Native women to this day who lead the village to protect the village and ensure a safe and well-being for all of us. So I also, I know, come from that on my father's side. The Pawnee Nation is currently located in Oklahoma, but we were dislocated from Kansas and Nebraska areas. And so I know that's where my traditional homelands are, where the stories of the matriarchs of the Echohawk family, where their stories come from, the stories of the Morgan family, that's where those stories come from. And I always reflect back that I have a responsibility to all of them. So I have spent many years working in doing everything I can to end violence against Native women because I do identify as a Native woman who has been a victim of both rape and sexual assault, and years ago, I thought I could never let any of my relatives ever endure what I had to. This should not be their outcome. And so part of my healing has been my work in MMIW, also in ending sexual violence and doing everything I can, including sharing my own stories of healing, of resiliency, of reclaiming matriarchy in that healing, to ensure that my nieces and my loved ones and all my relations don't experience or expect that this is what's going to happen to them or their relatives. I reflect back on last year. I got a call from the state of Nebraska and they were asking me for advice on their MMIW project. I got to spend some time with them, provide some strategic advice. And afterwards the woman said she's like, I know who your family is. She's like, I know you're an Echohawk. And I know that Pawnees came from Nebraska. She said, I want you to know that you are doing something now to protect Native women on your traditional homelands. And I just cried, sat in my office, cried for 30 minutes. And that's what being a good relation means to me, reflecting back on all my relations. Pawnee people, we don't have our traditional reservation homelands anymore. We do have some land. But there are other Native women there and it's my responsibility to care for them, to care for the land and to be connected to them. We are not people who see ourselves as individuals, but rather a part of a community. And to me, all my relations means I am blessed with the responsibility of accountability and responsibility to love, to protect and to heal not only myself, but what parts of my healing can contribute to the healing of our nations.
DESI: We got two powerhouse women, Indigenous women, Indigenous matriarchs with us. I mean, just Warrior women. I'm so I'm so honored to be in these rooms and virtually with you as well. This is fantastic. Wow. So Mary Kathryn, can you help us set the stage for our listeners? It's an outrage that we even have to have these types of conversations. Right. But many aren't familiar with the MMIW movement or kind of the the complexity of it across Indian country and beyond, beyond just these colonial boundaries, right, that exist. So can you give us an overview of MMW from your perspective and from your work?
MARY KATHRYN: That's a great question. And I think, you know, it's important to note, right, like MMIW has in a way caught fire in the larger American society in the last few years in that non Native Americans are starting to be familiar with the term you use. The non-Native media is starting to cover it. We saw two pieces of legislation come through Congress and they were signed by the president last October. But but obviously, we know as Native women, MMIW has been a crisis since fourteen ninety two. And I think, you know, the work we're all doing today is building on the generations of work of women who fought before us, but just for whatever reason. And you know, when I would give credit to my sister Abigail here, the reports that UIHI have put out garnered a lot of national media attention, the work the SBI has done. I mean, there's not it's not an accident that the media's paying attention all of a sudden. It is through the hard work of people publishing really important things that finally people are starting to read. But I also I also like to refer people to Sarah Deer’s book, The Beginning and End of Rape. And she actually does a great job of documenting in that book the violence against Indigenous women that began with when Christopher Columbus got lost at sea and washed up here on our shore and just thought it was a great idea to rape and kill Native women and kidnap them and did with with reckless abandon and then bragged about it in the journal entries he wrote. And, you know, the violence hasn't stopped since then, eight. And I think for a lot of us, we have the oral history of it, but also the written history of it. You can look and unfortunately, soldier's journals from different trails of tears and they brag about raping the Native women on on those different trails of tears from different tribal nations. So we've got a history of horrific massacres where the US Army specifically targeted Native women as a strategic means of taking out a tribal nation like the Sand Creek massacre, which is just one of many examples from the US military authorized by the federal government and carried out by the federal government. And so it's not a surprise today that we have a culture that promotes and accepts violence against Native women, because that's that's at the foundation of the United States. And that's not going to change and. Till we have a large scale reckoning and we say actually, that is not an American value. That's how we began, but that was wrong and we're going to stop. But that that takes a lot of people outside of Indian country coming to the table and being ready to have that conversation. And we're unfortunately not quite there yet. And I think then you add on all the legal complications, which is what I tend to focus on as an attorney. It doesn't help that in 1978, the Supreme Court was like, you know what, by the way, tribes, you don't get to exercise criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians anymore. Sorry, we just for some racist reasons, I think, don't want you to have that jurisdiction anymore. And they took it away after that. That was 1978. It's not surprising that the Department of Justice reported that the majority of violent crimes committed against Native people are committed by non-Natives. So that's not to say that we don't have Native on Native violence. We we all know we do. And we and we can talk about the causes of that and the relationship of that to intergenerational violence, boarding schools, you know, all of that. But the majority of the violence is coming, and I'm talking about on tribal lands, from non Natives and the Supreme Court has taken away the jurisdiction of our government to prosecute those crimes. No wonder these folks know they can come onto tribal lands and commit those crimes with reckless abandon and impunity, and they will not be prosecuted. At the same time, you know, we know that our our Native folks today don't. And we don't just we've all and we've always been transient, right? We've always had commerce and trade and diplomacy. We've never been in one spot. We've been very vibrant nations with with political relationships with other nations long before 1492. So our Native citizens, our Native people are all over. Sometimes they're in Seattle, sometimes they're in Baltimore, sometimes they're in downtown Kansas City. When our Native women are murdered or assaulted, the non-Native local police oftentimes have no motivation or desire to prioritize the investigation of that crime or the apprehension of the criminal who committed that crime against a Native woman. And I know you're very familiar with that, Desi, with the horrific murder of your niece, Kaysera Stops Pretty Places. And that's a case that the Bighorn County should have investigated and prosecuted a long time ago. I represent her family and have, through the help of her family, brought the county sheriff's office a gigantic pile of evidence. It is very clear who the top suspects are. They've never been investigated. Why? Because, again, this is outside of the tribal community. So the tribe doesn't have jurisdiction technically, but the county does and they don't care. Either, it's either that they don't care or they're corrupt and specifically protecting the perpetrators of that crime. And that's oftentimes some of the cases I work on. I don't have permission to speak about publicly because the families are so frightened. The local sheriff is best buddies with the killer who's killing the Native girls. And they know that if they speak out, they're going to face punishment on that local level. So there there and there are more reasons than that. I mean, you know, we could sit here and talk for hours about the different things that contribute. But I think it's we've got historical celebration of violence and acceptance of violence against women in the United States that hasn't been dealt with culturally. We have a legal framework that perpetuates it. And then we have racism and prejudice and corruption at the local level outside of our tribal governments. And and the way to deal with that and I know UIHI has been on top of this is we have to look at this as a state and local problem, too. We can't just go to Congress and ask them to fix it because they do not constitutionally have all the authority they need to fix everything that we need to fix at the state, county and local level as well. So you can see it and people will throw their hands up in the air and say, oh, my God, it's too complicated. I what do I possibly do? And I say, it's not complicated at all. You vote, who do you vote for when you vote for your county sheriff? Is that someone who prosecutes people who murder Native women? If not, don't vote for them, you know, everyone needs to vote with MMIW at the top of their list. And if these elected officials aren't taking it seriously and don't vote them back into office, vote them out of office. And that is that is one thing that every single citizen across the United States can do.
ABIGAIL: MK brings up an incredible, important topic is that, yes, the jurisdictional issues in our tribes and our villages is so complex and they use that as an excuse for non prosecution. And then when we look in our urban cities and those that are overseen by local law enforcement, they don't have that excuse and they're still not doing it. So the Urban Indian Health Institute, we put out the very first study on urban sexual violence. And one of the things we found is that of the Native women we talked to in the city of Seattle, 94 percent of them had been sexually assaulted in their lifetime, numbers like had never been seen before. Many people were surprised. I wasn't. They simply hadn't been asked before and out of those women, those who took their cases to the police, only eight percent of them saw a conviction and prosecution of their perpetrators. So recently, as a result of the COVID pandemic, there's reports in Seattle of homeless women specifically being sexually assaulted and victimized, going missing for several days, getting dropped back off. And so there was an interview that was done on local TV and the women were saying, yes, this is happening, the providers of social services were saying it was happening, and when they went and asked the police, what do you know? And they're like, oh, well, we haven't seen any uptick in sexual assaults at all. Nobody's reporting them. And my answer to them is, why would we? You're not going to do anything. We know it's happening. And as a result of COVID with the increased amount of violence, particularly domestic violence, sexual assault, we're actually doing everything we can to help prevent. But people don't trust the police simply because they don't do anything because of all of these historic and visibility, the oversexualization of Native women, the justifications of rape culture, people don't believe us. And when we go into these systems, they don't prosecute, they don't invest the same resources. And as a result of that, it is part of the perpetuation of this ongoing violence that allows for people to say, hey, we're getting sexually assaulted. And the police say, well, you didn't report it, so we don't care.
MARY KATHRYN: Yeah, or victim blame, too. I mean, how many times have we been told I've had clients where usually, if know, a family will ask me to represent them because they don't know where else to go. They just they're like, can you be an attorney and fight for us? And I'll talk to the police and they'll say, OK, we need to investigate this. And they'll say, well, you know, she's a young Native girl in her early 20s or late teens, she probably drank herself to death. That's what we think happened. And I'm and I'm like, absolutely not. The family says that didn't happen. They say, no, we're it's not an investigation. There's no crime here. There's no homicide. She just drank herself to death. Toxicology report comes back. No alcohol. Right. How many times has that happened? And they just they'll just write it off as well. We're just going to victim blame here instead of do our jobs. And, you know, that would not be the case if it was a white girl who was murdered. They would not be blaming her, even if it was a white college girl who was at some crazy party and was drinking alcohol, they would investigate her murder. Right? It is it is shameful the way in which law enforcement especially and, you know, off the reservation, I'm talking just state and local, too. We'll just we'll just victim blame instead of doing their job.
MATIKA: Mm hmm. Well, Abigail, you actually sort of brought this up just for a moment, but I want to give you a moment to elaborate. You co-authored a seminal report on MMIW, and we would really appreciate it if you would share with our listeners the importance of that work and how we need to bring awareness to the issue in both urban and reservation contexts.
ABIGAIL: I'm really blessed to have been and been able to be part of organizations that focus on research and data collection, data collection. To me as an Indigenous value system, we always gathered information, we analyzed it and we used it for the good and wellbeing of our people. But we know that data now gathered by sources outside of our tribal governments and our communities has been used against us. And we find that the non collection of data around violence against Native women and Native people has become an excuse to not direct the resources, to not direct the policy. And that lack of data is being used against us, despite these systems have created why the data isn't being collected.
ABIGAIL: So I have been blessed to work with numerous people across the United States on how do we begin to collect this information, highlight these gaps. And it started with our report on sexual violence in an urban city, Seattle, Washington, and pulling together the fact that 94 percent of the women we talked to had been sexually assaulted in their lifetime. And after those first assaults, we then found their coping mechanisms of alcohol, opioids, suicide attempts all directly tied to the trauma of their first sexual assaults. All of these things are the risk factors for people to go missing and to be murdered. And it started with that first incidence of violence and in that study, we found the average age of first sexual assault was 13 years old. These are young babies who deserve more. So I partnered with the incredible Annita Lucchesi and we worked together. She led most of the hard work in putting together our report on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in 71 cities across the United States. And we were able to do that through Freedom of Information requests where we requested police departments on the data that they had. What we found was more of what what was missing than what they actually had doing things that we know. Like if they didn't collect the race and ethnicity of somebody who was murdered, that they would default them to white in the database system where they just simply wouldn't collect it and there was no you know, officers have no accountability if they don't collect the race and ethnicity of people. So how why does that matter? Because if we can't tell the race and ethnicity of murder victims, of folks who have gone missing, people who have been found, we can't understand what's going on at the the base causes and also a base understanding of how deep this epidemic is. And actually, it's not an epidemic. It's a crisis is a crisis of more than 500 years. And so our work is really focused on the data aspects. And also, as people begin to use our report, it was such a blessing to see tribal communities use a report about urban Indians to build forth tribal sovereignty. I was ecstatic about that. And also we need to ensure that it supports and builds forward safety for urban dwelling American Indian and Alaska Native women. And we have been working as an organization, the Urban Indian Health Institute to support states nationwide in addition to grassroots movements to support them in doing this. The data is key. Without it, we wouldn't have got the publicity that we've seen over the last couple of years. And we also need to call out when people start to use the information that we have collected against us. So here in Washington state, the state of Washington put out a report on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in the state of Washington and in that they blatantly plagiarize our report and they also misuse information and data that was gathered from tribal nations and 10 listening sessions across the state. And then they put it forward as something that's going to benefit our communities when in fact, they basically checked a box of legislation said we had to do this, we're going to do a subpar job and nobody's going to notice because it's a bunch of Indians and we refuse to accept that. We issued our third report in our series of our bodies, our stories that was refuting the Washington State report, the way that they looked at information, the way they blatantly plagiarized our previous work. And we also wanted to let every other state in the nation know we are watching you so. When you do these task forces, when you put out these reports, I guarantee you my team and I will be combing over them and we will make sure that you're just not checking some box. We are going to make sure that is going to benefit our community. And you're not using our data to harm us. And they weren't happy. I ended up in a meeting with the chief of the Washington State Patrol where he refused to accept any accountability and in fact, to this day continues to plagiarize us in their report. And when you go to the Trump administration's Operation Lady Justice, and you see the reports for Washington State, they list reports per state on Operation Lady Justice. They have the Washington State report there, the one that is wrong, that misuses tribal data and blatantly plagiarizes Indigenous women, myself and Annita Lucchesi in a bad way. We refuse to let that stand. So part of this is that continuous fight. We are putting forward the information to put it in the hands of grassroots organizers of the incredible lawyer warriors like MK here we are doing everything we can to get them the resources. But we're also going to hold folks accountable to using that in a good way. We're not going to let them get away with checking a box and saying, oh, we address the issues of the tribes like, oh, no, you're going to do a good job or give us the money and we'll do it ourselves. Quit taking resources that we could do a better job with.
DESI: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I think let's talk a little bit more about that. We'll talk a little bit more about the data, the data stuff. But I want to talk a little bit more about the urban issues so we know more than 70 percent of of Native peoples, right are not living on reservation homelands and tribal homelands. And this is the population, Abigail, that you work very closely with. And so how do we ensure protection for tribal people who live off reservation land? What do we need to do?
ABIGAIL: We are tribal people, regardless of where we live. And there are some misunderstandings by non Indians about what it means to be an urban Indian. Urban is an experience. We are tribal people. I am a Pawnee woman and I'm a Pawnee woman in Seattle, just like I'm a Pawnee woman in Delta Junction, Alaska, like I am in Pawnee, Oklahoma. And we need to understand that as our tribal people have come here from being removed from their tribal places, some of the tribal people in urban settings, this is their traditional land and others have come for economic reasons, educational reasons and we need to ensure our safety, regardless of where we live and what experience we're having, whether it's urban or rural. And working with our urban populations, we know that there is an incredible lack of safety. I talked about before that police departments when taking reports on missing Native women, on sexually assaulted Native women, on folks who have been murdered immediately go to victim blaming. Oh, are you sure she's not a runaway? Was she drinking? Who was she at? What bar was she at? All of these things are asked before, how do we get your loved one back? How do we get you justice? And so we've seen our urban Indian communities come together. We have incredible support systems in our incredible thriving urban Indian communities. But outside of them, we see very little of that support. So my organization recently gave small grants to survivors of sexual violence in twenty six urban cities across the United States. And one of the things we ask them is what are they experiencing right now in the midst of COVID? And more than 20 percent of them said that they do not have physical safety right now and they're seeing their physical safety even being threatened more in the midst of COVID, where they're quarantined with their abusers, where there's not as many shelters, where there's not as much space for them to receive safety. As a result of that, we have our women who will decide to live in a car with their children because as a Native person, they're not treated in a good way when they go to a traditional shelter system. So our urban Indian women are really lacking the resources that they need. What we have found is when tribal communities work closely with their urban Indian communities, the Minneapolis community is a really good example of that, here in Seattle, Washington. There's other great examples where people are working with the tribal nations to come together to put supportive systems in place that our survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault for families whose loved ones have gone missing or who have been murdered, that there's advocacy coming from their tribal nations and treaty and trust responsibility did not end because I stepped off my reservation. And a recognition of that, we come from sovereign nations, that we are part, and we have sovereign governments and we need to be working closely with them, so we actually have a project, the Urban Indian Health Institute, right now to address the data issues. And as part of that, we are facilitating tribal consultations with local law enforcement, with their federally recognized tribes to ensure that information on missing and murdered and other violence against Native women is flowing back to the tribes from the law enforcement so that there is a bidirectional relationship which needs to be built so tribal nations have and understand what is happening to their urban Indian people. And nothing like that has happened up until this point. And our people very  often just disappear without anybody knowing about it. And we can't let that continue. So we are tribal, regardless of where we live. And the strengths of our urban Indian communities is the inter tribal support that regardless of what tribal nation you are, we're all related and we are going to work together to protect each other, to provide resources for each other and to love each other regardless of where we live. And we're seeing some of tribes really working to establish those relationships in their urban Indian communities so that they can support their urban dwelling citizens.
DESI: Fantastic. I think what what I have noticed in this MMIW work is the opportunities to strengthen sovereignty in urban centers and to really see that type of data linkage, you know, that type of of cooperation, that type of, you know, inter tribal sovereignty over, you know, both data policy and service delivery, I think is just it's a very powerful example that's been a long time coming. So thank you for sharing that.
MATIKA: Mm hmm.
MATIKA: I want to just take a moment to acknowledge that we're when we're not talking about data, we're talking about people's lives, you know, like our sisters, our aunties, ourselves, our mothers, you know, like I just had a baby girl. And so, you know, I I very much want to acknowledge that, that these are people's stories, individual stories, you know, and and I thought maybe it might be useful if we maybe speak directly about some of those stories that we've that we've encountered. I know you know, in my travels, I you know, I spent over I spent like nine years traveling around Indian country. I've been to all those places, Delta Junction, Pawnee, Seattle. You know -
ABIGAIL: You need a rez passport stamp.
MATIKA: I know I would have like all the places and and, you know, like the stories that I've heard from our women, it has has lain really heavily on my heart. And I've heard stories of women who, you know, were in the military, were assaulted and came home to bear children from that experience and were rejected when they got home. I've heard stories of domestic violence and sexual assault from my own family members, from, you know, like I think of like the grandmas who told me stories about being sterilized in Indian boarding or in the IHS system. I've heard stories around. I mean, I could go on and on and on because unfortunately, when I sit down to talk to our women and our Two-Spirit relatives also and sometimes our men, too, they tell me these stories about what's happened to the safety of their body. And so I thought maybe we should just take a moment to to kind of talk about that like that. We're talking about people, real people. And I don't know if you want to share on that, but I'll invite you to.
ABIGAIL: Yeah, I think that's so important. And then the data work that I do, I spend a whole day with my staff when they first start and I train them and I and we we talk about how every data point is exactly that. It's a mother, it's a child, it is a loved one. When we talk about our sexual violence report, there was actually one woman that we had to remove from the data analysis because she had been raped so many times in her lifetime that it actually made the other data get skewed because of the number of rapes that she had endured. And in data, you say, oh, well, we took out this outlier like, oh, no, we honor you in your story and in honoring your story, we lifted up and we share what you shared with us, because every one of these women said they shared these stories because they wanted to change the circumstances that resulted in their assaults. And so we honor her in sharing such pain and sharing such trauma. And if we aren't acknowledging that the data is a story, is a loved one, it, even if you don't know them when you hear their story, it touches your heart. It's part of your story now. And what responsibility do you have to that story now that you know it? Because I was always taught, when you hear stories, there's a responsibility that goes with that. There's a teaching with that, there's a knowledge and you're meant to do something about it. Just yesterday, there was a memorial for a young woman who was killed about 30 miles from where we're sitting here in Tulalip. She was killed about 30 miles from here in South Seattle area. And it was her birthday. She was a young woman. And I saw the little ones in the Facebook feeds of dancing and holding signs and honoring of her, the fact that there has been very little to no investigation of her murderer. And here are all these Native people standing in a parking lot demanding justice in the light rain of Seattle never forgetting their loved one. And so many of us hold stories that are not from this generation. Even though I could tell you many of them, I can tell you stories from six generations ago, seven generations ago. We know and remember these loved ones. And I remember meeting a grandma. She was at a conference that I was at some years ago, and she was telling me about the what she believed and knew was the murder of her granddaughter. This young person was found shot in her bedroom and out her window there was actually footsteps, footsteps in the snow out of her window. But when the FBI came, they ruled it a suicide, despite her having been shot with a shotgun that was 15 feet away from her on the other side of the room. And this young person was too small to have been able to complete a suicide with this shotgun because her arms were too short to have reached. And so this grandma did what the FBI didn't do. She went through and she sterilized tongs in a dishwasher and then she got Ziploc bags and she went around and she got everything that she thought was evidence. And she used these sterilized tongs and she put them in Ziploc bags and then she mailed them to the FBI. And she has called the FBI, the last time I talked to her every single week. Despite them sending a death certificate that said suicide, because we also know that in these “investigations” and I'm saying in quotation marks, they'll often do something that's easy and say, oh, this was a suicide when in fact it was a murder. These are the stories that we all I feel I'm blessed to hear. And then I also go home and I cry about and I write poetry about and I make art about because we also have to move through the trauma in order to be part of the healing. And when we tell these stories. If we're not healing, how can we be effective? So for those of us who have been blessed to do certain things in the movement, it's also been key for us to find those healing practices that allow us to keep hearing the stories, to be able to share, to tell them, to use them as motivation and to use them for the fight for justice. But we also have to recognize that it's part of the trauma we all experience. And sometimes, yes, I go home and I sit on my couch and I cry about the things that I wish I could do something about. I engage in the healing practices for me. I like I said, I write poetry or I make regalia and then I get up the next morning and I get ready to fight again. And I feel blessed to be able to do that. And without those stories that you were talking about, those are the driver that allow us to keep moving forward because none of our loved ones should ever experience these things. None of them. And I think about that grandma, that matriarch of that family with her tongs in the dishwasher in big Ziploc bags, refusing to let the FBI do a crappy job. And she was going to demand justice for her, her loved one. And I have a responsibility after hearing her story, to be part of their justice also.
DESI: Absolutely. Absolutely. This reminds me when you're talking about the rain and this family out there, you know, celebrating and remembering and and never stopping, like, that's the families that I've had the privilege to to work with and to support and to advocate on behalf of. I'm just always so moved by by our commitment to our relatives, you know, in this world and the next I mean, I want to just share a story because I had a hard time coming here to Seattle to Tulalip, but mainly coming into the city. I really struggled because there's a young Cheyenne woman that's been missing from from Lame Deer, from my home named Shacaiah Harding. She was last seen in Seattle. We know that she's been a part of, you know, a sex trafficking circle, a ring that she's being victimized. And there was just about a month ago, a massive mobilization effort of her family and our relatives and of tribal leaders from our community who came to Seattle because there were reports that she she had been spotted. And so folks partnered with, you know, some of the local Seattle based organizations. I think Chief Seattle Club was one, to do a real, you know, land search for her. And they didn't find her. They found another young woman, another Indigenous woman who looked like her, who also, you know, has been victimized and is struggling and is unsheltered and but it wasn't her. And so when I came to Seattle, it was just I feel that heaviness. And that's just one example, you know, our sisters, our daughters, our relatives, their their stories, they wrap us, you know, these stories just I feel like are these blankets that we just keep getting rapped over and over by. And and I know that especially, you know, Mary Kathryn, I want to thank you so much for the advocacy and the work that you have done for justice for my niece, Kaysera Stops Pretty Places, for the work that you're doing in southeastern Montana. Montana has one of the highest rates of of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls of any state. And so I want to ask you, Mary Kathryn, you know, you have walked alongside families as they have had doors shut in their faces, as they have had awful words told to them, as they have been looking through autopsy reports and seeing undetermined death. Right. Seeing suicide, seeing exposure. Right. And we know that our women and girls, they didn't just end up dead in a sagebrush on their own accord. And so I want to ask you, how do we hold not just people, but systems accountable? We're talking about, you know, this is systemic. It's always been systemic. It's been systemic since, you know, 1492 when we had invasion. Right. When we had the introduction of these colonial systems forced upon us. This has been such a very raw thing that Iʻve, you know, I've gone through autopsy reports and I've gone through I've seen firsthand just how much people in power don't give a fuck. They really don't. Just another dead Indian. How you have been a part of this over and over and over again for so many families and it just, yes, whatever you can shed light on, I'd really value that.
MARY KATHRYN: I mean, you know, here's the truth. You want to know the really sad truth? I represent a number of families. Your family was one of the first to reach out to me. And then all of a sudden it was like because we were on social media talking about all these families started saying, I want an attorney too my and I now represent a large number of families. In most of those cases, I would say by far the vast majority if I actually did the numbers, my guess right now, I haven't done the data, but my guess would be 80 percent know who killed their daughter or their sister or their niece. It's not a mystery. And if they don't know, it's like here are the top three suspects who should obviously be investigated. And the authorities are writing it off as suicide. And instances like where, you know, one case that I'm working on, a young girl who was quite young, a mother, just under six feet tall, was murdered by the father of her child. And her body was found in the basement and in this crawl space that was below five feet. And the and the county coroner said, well, and of course, her non-Native husband, county coroner, said she hung herself suicide, hung herself suicide in a crawl space that's over, you know, like way. How does she hang herself in a space that is shorter than her and then lay her body out to be found like obviously she you know, and but they don't care because the sheriff is buddy buddy with the father of her child who killed her, who had been repeatedly abusing her, right. And this is where the patterns of crimes that lead up to that come into play. And, you know, the FBI is the worst. They are absolutely the worst. And how do I hold them accountable? You know, we haven't been able to yet. And that's that's the shame of it all. Now, I think we're getting a few steps closer, but unfortunately, a lot of people think, well, Savanna’s Act, Not Invisible Act, we won. No, we got people's attention. But all Savannah's act requires people to the FBI to do is talk to the US attorney's office. They have to engage in consultation. And then the US attorney's office will create the MMIW guidelines that the US attorney will implement. Those guidelines could be eat a banana, go for a jog, get drunk. I mean, I don't care. Like they could be telling themselves we're going to do whatever we want, don't investigate. Who cares? Go watch a football game. And there's nothing in the statute that requires that US attorney to do anything different. Now, you know, I think there'd be a decent amount of public backlash if the US attorneys was like, you know, I'm going to drink beer and watch football. And that's how I'm going to deal with the crisis, which is what some of them are doing right now instead of actually dealing with a crisis. But, you know, there's just no mechanism right now to directly hold the FBI accountable. And in Kaysera’s case in particular, they we've written them numerous letters. You know what the response has been and got Senator Tester to write a specific letter saying, FBI, you need to investigate. Oh, her body was found a half a mile off the border of the reservation. We have no jurisdiction. That is a full on lie. First of all, as Abigail pointed out, they have a federal trust, duty and responsibility. She's a tribal citizen. She's been murdered. You have a trust duty and responsibility to investigate. Whether or not the US attorney has jurisdiction to prosecute is a whole separate question. If you end up deciding that the US doesn't have jurisdiction to prosecute, then after you investigate it, you give that evidence to the sovereign government that does have jurisdiction and that is your trust duty and responsibility. Second of all, how the heck do you know where she was murdered? You know, I mean, this idea that her body just sat there at this busy intersection in a very busy suburban neighborhood for five mornings in a row. And it just happened to be the fifth morning that the elementary school principal, when he went for his morning jog, discovered her body is ludicrous. But that's literally what their story is, right? She wasn't she could not have been murdered on tribal lands because she died of natural causes by lying in the suburban intersection for five days until her body was discovered. That is actually their story. That's their justification for not doing an investigation. And Senator Tester wrote them a letter. And there's there's no accountability. So how are we going to hold them accountable? And you want to talk about stories. Another family I'm working with, Lindsay Whiteman's mother, Lindsay Whiteman, citizen of the Blackfeet tribe. She was murdered. Everyone knows who murdered her. She was in a car with two non-Native citizens. I mean, the non tribal citizens, two guys who shot her friend, like she witnessed them murder and kill her friend. And when she tried to stop them from running away from the scene, they ran her over in their car and killed her and then then proceeded to take the bodies into Great Falls, Montana, and so they actually ended up getting charged by the Great Falls police for and I can’t remem- some crimes related to confiscation of evidence and a deceased body in a homicide investigation. Right. Because you're not allowed to take a body from a crime scene. And that's what they did after they committed the crimes. The FBI has done nothing. We've written letters to the FBI saying these two Native women were murdered on the Blackfeet reservation. There's no mystery as to who murdered them. I mean, just talk to the Great Falls police who picked up the car with the body inside. But are they are they investigating? Absolutely not. You know what they did on February 3rd, they showed up. Lindsay's brother, Jess Edwards, works works for the Blackfeet police. They just showed up on February 3rd, 2021 , a couple of years after she'd been murdered, after having done nothing, after not having answered any of the family's letters, after not having had a meeting with the family, after not communicating with the family, after not really doing an investigation. And they said, here, Jess here's your sister's clothes that she was wearing when she died and walked off. Can you imagine? You know, and that is what our families to it and that is what the FBI gets away with and who is going to hold them accountable? And we have to. And so I'm actually begging senators right now to hold a hearing at the Senate committee and maybe we can all join in that effort. And Abigail, you know, I would hope that you would get to testify at that hearing, too, to call the FBI out, because, you know, it's great that the Biden administration has spoken out and said they are in favor of addressing this crisis. But the FBI has has to be brought to task. And I hope and pray that Attorney General Merrick Garland will take that seriously. I'm going to be honest, if you look at his record on the federal bench, he's did not pro tribal sovereignty, not pro Native issues. Now, he's not super, super anti. But, you know, as we've witnessed over the last five hundred years of history, you know, you can't you can't be neutral or absent on these issues. You have to be engaged. Someone is going to have to tell the FBI, you don't get to do that anymore. And, you know, the thing that just really irks me is that, you know, it's great that Martin Scorsese is going to do this awesome movie about Killers of the Flower Moon. It's a total frickin white savior story about Tom White, the white FBI agent who saved the Osage by investigating the murders of the Osage when the FBI investigated like five out of hundreds and hundreds of murders of the Osage. And right now, the FBI is doing the same thing to our Native women. The same thing. So let's not celebrate them in a movie. Let's let's call the FBI out because they're repeating. The Osage murders are ongoing. Our Native women, the FBI is just not doing their job. And we have to hold them accountable. And I think, you know, what we're all doing is so critical, but we're going to have to get to a place where non Natives will say, I'm not going to be quiet about this either. I'm going to demand to my senator that they hold this hearing. I'm going to demand this and that, and we're going to have to put pressure on the Biden administration. Again, they've said some good things about MMIW, but this is our opportunity. They need to take action. They, the Biden administration needs to require the FBI to to just to knock it off and to do their job and to uphold their treaty and trust duty obligation.
MATIKA: We were going to actually ask you about that. So I'll just point out, like one of our favorite quotes from you, as you said, it's good to be a Facebook warrior, but to actual impact in our communities, do politics and etc. We have to be engaged politically to ensure we elect people who will take care of these issues. So could you could elaborate on that for a second for our listeners, for those that are at home? Can you explain the type of political engagement that you're talking about and where do we need this engagement right now and how both locally, federally and maybe both of you could address that?
MARY KATHRYN: Thank you. And I so appreciate that, because I don't mean to throw any shade at our Facebook warriors and our Twitter warriors because we need that right. That's an important piece of the puzzle. But it can't be the whole puzzle. Right, because it does social media does get us something but only gets us part of the way. And we have got to hold, you know, and the FBI is a little bit amorphous, right? We don't elect the FBI. They're this weird agency within the Department of Justice. You know, how how do how do we get to them? And, you know, and that's that's a more complicated route. But you want to talk about, like, for instance, Sheriff  and Bighorn County. Right. How many Native women have been murdered on his watch and he's done absolutely nothing to investigate those crimes. Right. Don't reelect him. Now, this is hard, especially in our border town communities, because there's so much racism from the non-Natives. And sometimes they'll find the Native person that, for whatever reason, is willing to help with that or sort of run with that narrative. And so. I'm not saying it's easy for those of us in the grassroots communities to go out and win these elections. Those are big, big, big challenges, especially in border towns. But what we definitely need to be doing is not just giving our votes or sitting back and not engaging and watching these people be reelected. And at the state level, too, it's very disappointing to me to see the former Montana Governor Bullock, who's this liberal Dem who's all about Native women rights, not respond to any of our letters on behalf of Kaysera’s family to say you could you have political power here, you could make the Montana Department of Justice go there and investigate. He didn't answer, did nothing. His office wouldn't meet with us, wouldn't give us 30 minutes to talk. And he wanted to run for Senate. So I was very happy to say publicly people should not vote for him because you don't get to do that. You don't get to not talk to families and do your job and do something to address this crisis and then expect to win political office. And I think that's the kind of consequences that we need to bring to bear to candidates who think they can run for office but not care about them and not do anything about it.
ABIGAIL: MK brings up incredible things that we have to consider, in particular for non-Indians, we need you to step up and be an ally, right? You know, just sharing it on Facebook. That's not enough. I agree completely. There are opportunities and the collective power of allies can hold significant influence. But you need to be following the lead of Native communities and Native leaders thinking about the stuff that MK and her team does. We need to follow what they're doing. We need to step up and support where the support is needed. When we think about the FBI, not too long ago, I gave a presentation to the 9th Circuit Courts. I was giving a presentation on MMIW and things related to where the 9th Circuit is. And I got up and I challenged the Washington State report, gave information on other MMIW report. I was the second presenter. The rest was the Department of Justice, the FBI and then the state of Washington. And I remember sitting there and they only let me bring one person with me and every single one of them spoke directly to me. It was like little arrows trying to penetrate me as they directed the rest of their comments directly against what I had shared. And that was one experience. And I know MK probably gets that once a week. That one time I will never forget because it was like almost a time for them to try to intimidate me and we can't let that happen. And that's not happening to one individual that's happening to four communities, whole tribes, urban Indian centers. We need people to stand up and demand justice. And when we talk about the accountability of policymakers, they got voted by constituents. They are not there for their own purposes. If they're not going to represent us, then get out. And we have the opportunity to make sure that happens and to stand up and to say this is what is needed. And non-Indian communities need to follow our lead. They don't need to be running it in the front. They need to be standing behind us, taking the messaging that Mary Kathryn just shared and taking that to those policymakers and holding folks like the FBI accountable. There are so many other departments across the federal government that also need to be held within accountability. And right now, when we look at the Biden administration, they're in office because of Indians. I believe that 100 percent. We swung the vote for them now is their time to stand up for us. We were asking for change. They said they were going to bring it. Now do it. And we're going to hold them accountable to that at the state and the local level. It's also important right now here in the city of Seattle, there is an Indigenous woman running for mayor and I will say she is my sister, Colleen Echohawk, who has been one of the leaders in our community. But when I think about her organization that she's currently executive director of, it was on the front time front of the Seattle Times about a year ago where she talked about how at the very least, they have one member, a female member, who will come in and say she was raped hours before and, front page of The Seattle Times. Not a damn thing came out of that. There wasn’t increased police presence. There wasn’t increase of money or services. And I told a reporter I was like, you know, I can't believe this is on the front page of The Seattle Times. What if another place like L.A. Fitness, where I have a ten dollars a month gym membership reported at least one of their members reported a rape a week. The mayor would be there, the police would be there, the media would be there. And this reporter said to me, oh, but they pay a fee and automatically applied the fact that these Native women who access the Chief Seattle club are predominantly homeless and low income. And here I am on live TV trying not to swear profusely, but it was just the example of what and how people think about us as Native women. Now, what if we had a Native woman of the mayor of a city where women are reporting sexual violence in this way? What would the response look like? I promise you it would look different. That's why it's important for Native people to step into levels of leadership from the local level to the federal level. Yes, we need to hold accountability to our non-Indian policymakers, but we need more Native people. We need more Deb Haalands and Sharice Davids. We need more Colleen Echohawks. We need these people standing up for us and being in these places of power. We need a Native person leading the FBI.
MK: That is phenomenal. Absolutely.
ABIGAIL: We need to demand that happens. And we need non-Indians and allies to step into this with us and be part of this force demanding change. That has been one of the things we've seen probably in the last three or four years we hadn't really seen prior. And it really had to do with the I would say, the Facebook warriors who really got out there and shared information and the media attention that we had been getting. And now what do you do with it? It has to step beyond that. That's how somebody asked me is like, well, what did you do after your report? Like, I kept working. We just didn't stop. Nobody stopped. We can't stop. There are little ones standing in front of apartment buildings and parking lots with red hands over their faces who are mourning the loss of their loved one like happened this weekend here in Seattle and I'm sure happened other places. They deserve for every person in this country to be fighting for their safety and to be fighting for the justice of their loved ones. And it's going to take all of us demanding that change. And I can't wait until the head of the FBI is the Native woman.
MK: Yes, that.
MATIKA: Yes, yes, yes, yeah, yeah. No, our women deserve safety. You know, I can't say it enough. Native women deserve safety. I say it every time I give a public talk and it seems like we have to shout it from the rooftops. And the inequality is so easy to spot. If white women were being raped and victimized at the same level, men would be enforced chastity belts, you know, like this would be-
ABIGAIL: I’ll start making.
MATIKA: So could you add that to your regalia making?
ABIGAIL They will be distributed for free.
DESI: This is just so powerful. You know, I keep thinking about all these different cases. And I think, you know what? If there was a Native woman who was coroner, if there was a Native woman who was the sheriff, if there was a Native woman who was the medical examiner, this shit wouldn't happen. Wouldn't let it happen.
ABIGAIL: Absolutely. And that goes back to why aren't we in those places? And people like, oh, well, Native people haven't achieved this academic place or they haven't gone to college for this or that, like these systems of inequality, including access to Western education, access to socioeconomics, all of these things were meant to continue to participate in the ongoing genocide of Native people through this violence, through our elimination in the data. These things are built in institutional and structural racism that have resulted in, you know, I don't even know of a Native coroner. I really hope there's one. But I never heard of a Native coroner in the United States. We need one. Yeah, we need thousands of them, which means we have to look at this as a systematic issue. The violence against women is a tool of war. It's recognizing the human rights world as a tool of war. It started that way in 1492, and it has not stopped and it is continuing right now in 2020, 21. We have to think about how do we change that tool of war? What are we going to do to intervene to ensure that this doesn't continue? Right. And unless we see this mass movement that MK was talking about, it's going to be us trying to minimize the harm of the violence that continues to occur. And I am tired of treating the symptoms.
DESI: Absolutely, you know, I want to talk about something that's hard, not like not like not like all of this is so hard. Right. But I want to state a hard fact, you know, that so many of our women and girls and our people are being victimized by our own as well, you know. And so why, why, why and why do we protect predators in some of our communities? Why do we elevate them to leadership positions in some places? You know, so I often get asked it. You know, it's all these damn white men. Yes. Yes and right. It's and and. So what are your thoughts on on our own people? How do we keep our own people accountable, our own relatives?
MARY KATHRYN: That's a tough question, right, because I think that it's a it's really hard to look inside, but we have to and I think we have to in a way where people have to both be held accountable and we have to have compassion because we understand where the violence comes from. You know, I have so much respect for Judge Abby Abinanti from the Yurok tribe and the programs that she's created there, where a lot of times, you know, domestic violence abusers convicted in their tribal court there, she doesn't just say, OK, now we're going to put you in jail. It's there's a whole cultural healing program she sentences them to so they can reclaim their Yurok identity because it is not a Yurok cultural value to rape women or to abuse women right. That's not that's not an inherent traditional Yurok cultural value. Now, many of the generations before us and some of our generations, too, but, you know, were abused in boarding schools, abused during forced removal. I mean, there's there's no it's not a mystery as to why we have this violence in our communities. The task before us is what do we do about it? And, you know, the model that we've that we've been told we have to that we have to do is this very Western model. And, you know, and maybe some tribes want to do that and that might be fine. But, you know, a lot of tribes, especially like I just keep thinking of the example of Yurok, you know, we have to find a way to achieve that cultural restoration, that understanding of what it means to be a Cherokee person or a Pawnee person or a Yurok or whatever you are like, I don't know, a single tribal nation. Like point to me a tribal nation who who thought domestic violence was an important value, like you shouldn't you should abuse your wife or your or your girlfriend or your daughter or whoever, you know, before 1492. That didn't exist. And not to say that we were 100 percent perfect, but we had we had a way of teaching our values and of keeping that in check. And that's been thrown off balance and we know why. But now we have to think about, OK, we can't just, you know, we know we've been told we have to adopt purely Western models, but but we actually don't. And, you know, how do we look back to our own cultural values and teachings and systems of justice? I mean, we have those in place. And how do we look at when members within and in part, as you're right, part of the problem is, is those people are sitting on our tribal councils, you know, they’re. And what do we do? What do we do when someone on our tribal council is molesting children or raping women? I mean, this happens and we have to find a way to hold that individual accountable. And honestly, it is a pretty it's an issue that's kind of within Indian country. I don't I don't like the idea of, well, we need to get the state or the feds to intervene. We've been doing this for thousands of years. Yes, we had a huge disruption over the last several hundred years. But we got this we just got to do it, right? And we got to support one another. You know, our sisters and brothers and other tribal nations who are fighting this fight in their homes and provide support. And it's going to be tough. But I think I I think we can do it.
ABIGAIL: So last May 5th, I get this frantic text message and then a FaceTime call from a young woman and she was at her tribal community. And so May 5th is MMIW awareness day in many states, in many communities. And she was at her MMIW event and the person singing and doing the opening prayer was her rapist, a rapist in the community who was known to have sexually assaulted women and to also have perpetrated domestic violence. And this young person who I had given my number to, like the year previously called me because she said, look, I've told everybody, everybody knows this is who this person is and what he's been doing. And he's the one opening up this MMIW event, and it was breaking her heart, and as we think about how our loved ones cope in the midst of this trauma, this is where we see the coping with alcohol or other kinds of substances. This is where we see the mental harm that results in suicide attempts. This is where we see the things where people don't connect to others because they know nobody believes them. And if we don't address this dysfunction in our community, we are not going to be able to heal. And addressing issues in our community was who we were prior to colonization, the things that MK was talking about in this restorative healing processes, we did that centuries before, we need to rebuild that. And the reason that this young woman had my phone number is because she had been in an event where I was speaking about sexual assault and I had shared that my rapist was a Native man. And because hers was too, she asked for my number because we connected and she asked, you know, can I call you sometime? And I said, yes, you can call me any time. And when she called me, we cried together because I know what it means to see the person who harmed you in such a way, elevated in the community and nobody holding them accountable. And when we talk about accountability, it's not talking about punitive punishment. It's about healing for the person who was victimized and healing for the person who was the perpetrator. So when we released a report on sexual violence in Seattle, we did it first with the community. We gathered together community members. And in that gathering, all of these folks who had experienced sexual assault said for those of them who had been assaulted by people in our own communities, like we don't throw our people away, we want healing for them. We recognize that they have been impacted with the things that we've been impacted by the boarding schools, the dislocation from our lands, the ongoing trauma, the fact that they were probably sexually assaulted or abused themselves. And when we look at the science of folks who are abusers, very often a majority of them experienced the same things in their lives and it becomes learned behavior that continues generation after generation. Historical trauma is real, but so is historical healing. And when we stood in that circle and those women were saying, I want my perpetrator from my community, from my family to be healed because I need that for my own healing, that's what our community should be focusing on. How do we heal them? How do we change that for the next generations? I'm a mom. I have two incredible sons who have been going to rape rallies since they were babies. I have a picture of my son. He's six years old and he's got like we were at a rape rally and he's covered in stickers that say “end rape” because he's six and you like stickers. I was recently at a murder trial of a man who had murdered a Native woman a non-Indian guy. And I was there with my son. He was 19 at the time. And we were there, you know, we brought the family some food and some money and things like that. And during the lunch time, they walked the murderer who was convicted of the murder out of the courtroom. And my son was with me, we were sitting out outside the door, and when they walked him by with the police officers, one of the police officers turned, turned and looked at me. And because of the work that I'd be doing, I have become recognizable in this work. And he turned around and was like walking backwards, staring at me. It was very intimidating. And my son stood up, put his hood over his head and put his body in between me and that police officer where that person couldn't see me anymore. And I thought, oh, wow, the trauma that our young men carry and even thinking about how do they protect the women in their lives. Because my son also knows, especially here in Washington, Native men are more likely to be killed by the police than anybody else. And here he did put his big, beautiful brown body between me and what he saw as a threat. They carry that that trauma, too. And how do we make sure that as loving people in our communities, as moms, as aunties, as grandmas and as our community, how do we make sure that our young men get the resources they need to heal this trauma, that we address those and hold accountable those in our community who have perpetuated trauma? Because I don't want to keep answering phone calls from young women who see their rapists being held up by our community and leading.
ABIGAIL: That's not traditional. No, violence is not traditional and upholding that is not traditional. We need to step away from these patriarchal colonial systems that don't allow us to address trauma in our communities. We need to go back to the healing that our relatives had, that our ancestors held onto so I can teach my beautiful son that protecting his mom and protecting his aunties and his nieces is his responsibility. And I'm blessed for him to hold that responsibility. And I also recognize that deep trauma comes with that. And it's going to take us changing and sharing stories. And I will say that I have received terrible feedback on the fact that I share about my rapist being Native because people don't like to hear the things that are hard in our community in the public. Yeah, but then folks like us, me and this young woman, when nobody talks about it, how can we ever receive healing? And I'm sorry. I deserve that. She deserves that. And every other Native person deserves that. And our community deserves healing because we have these beautiful, light skinned, dark skinned, black hair, blond hair, Native men and Native people who want to be here and want to heal for our communities and they want to heal from the violence that they have been part of and the violence that they have perpetrated.
MARY KATHRYN: This has been an incredible, incredible conversation. And thank you so much for having me. I'm sorry I have to jump off. I'm happy to to talk again if we need to do more. And I'm just sorry that I have to jump off for the kid conference right now, but. Thank you, bye, love you all so much.
MATIKA: Thank you so much.
ABIGAIL: So there's some really great resources and National Indigenous Women's Resource Center has resources for both organizations and for survivors, and one of the strongest ones that they have is called the Strong Hearts Helpline. And so you can call them, you can text them, you can spend time in conversation with people talking through, because you're right, there are going to be times when nobody is going to believe you. And that's what rape culture looks like for women and our LGBTQ plus community nationwide. Nobody believes and these systems have been set up to benefit men and allows for this violence to continue. So that resource I know has been one that people have utilized and have really seen good results from, because sometimes you just need somebody on a call, you know, like that's why I give my phone number out. That's why I can never change my phone number is sometimes people just call me and I just listen and say, I understand. I believe you. You matter. Giving people, when they bring these experiences, you just not asking questions about what happened, but just saying, I believe you, your feelings are valid, you’re valid. Yeah, that is something survivors do not get very often reaching out to resources like the StrongHearts Helpline. And also, as somebody you know, who experienced these kinds of assaults and I always say I was every statistic as a teenager, that we place on our youth. I was actively suicidal. I abused substances. I engaged in risky behaviors because I was in such deep pain and I could not figure out what to do. So knowing resources like the suicide hotline exists, that there are Native specific resources like the StrongHearts Helpine. Our tribal communities recently because of the the things that are going on in the pandemic, I found myself triggered and in a point of trauma a lot more in my MMIW work than I've experienced in a long time. So things like right now I can't share blankets with my partner because I can't have anybody touch my skin. And that is a trauma response from my sexual assaults. And so I've actually been zooming in to the Pawnee nation's support group that is being held. And as a result of the pandemic, for the very first time, they've done that virtually. So I've never been able to participate in that before, but I'm accessing my tribal services, even though I'm living in Seattle, Washington, I'm zooming in to where other Pawnee women are for us to come to create and support this supportive system together. So being in spaces with other survivors and finding ones that are specific for Native people and also for people of color, those resources are there. And we also recently did a survey of sexual assault survivors and asked them what are the resources outside of law enforcement? We recognize that law enforcement is not our resource. What was your healing? And for every single one of them, all of the women who responded, it was cultural resources, it was singing, it was gathering with other Native matriarchs. It was having times to come together to learn beading. And it's not about the just the physical activity, although there's a mindfulness part of that. But it was also about the reconnection to our ancestors. When I sit there and I make regalia, I think of ten generations ago of the Pawnee women who pass that knowledge down to my Auntie Shayla Rice, who taught it to me. They're beating with me. Yeah, they're making ribbons, skirts with me. And I know that they're with me in that time. So these kinds of resources are what we need to see our outside partners not only funding, but not questioning. So, yes, a support group is a beading group is a drumming group is a traditional language group is a traditional foods. All of these resources are necessary and needed and are part of what our healing is. Some of the outside resources, like the suicide hotline, save lives, and I will say there are times in my life it saved my mine and so use them. Also reach out to your traditional ways, because that is where our healing lies. And in my times of my deepest triggered moments, I go back home to Alaska. I go into the blueberry fields where where I'm from, the blueberries. The weather gets so hot and so cold below 50 degrees over 90 degrees in the summer. And as a result of that, our plant is so strong. And so our traditional ways, the the blueberries you'd give to the elders and to the youth and you'd prioritize them with that. And Western science now knows that those blueberries have the highest amount of antioxidants and vitamins as a result of the extreme conditions they live in. Wow. And I go home to the blueberry fields to touch that plant and to know I'm a blueberry too. That our traditional foods are part of what heal us. So I'll stand in those fields of blueberries and I'll pick them and I'll be really loud and sing super loud so bears don't come. But it's also to teach my sons those traditional songs and I'll go back to those ways. And when I'm in my deeply triggered moments, I have to remember I'm a blueberry and I've shared that story a lot with other sexual violence survivors. And I was at a conference a couple of years ago before COVID. And out of the crowd, some young girl comes running up to me and she says, Do you remember me, Abigail? Do you remember me? And I was like, Yes, I sort of remember you. She's like, I just want to tell you, this year was terrible. But I'm a blueberry, too. And she gave me the biggest hug. And and holding her in my arms, I just thought, what if we all knew we were blueberries, too?
MATIKA: That's beautiful. Yeah, well, let’s close. I'm going to close out in a good way. I'm going to sing a prayer song for you for those at home, because that's what we do here. I think it's important to hold that space of healing. You know, these are this is a hard conversation. And I had an elder tell me that every time that I offer that I share stories that make you feel something like if you're going to bring tears, then you also have to bring healing to the spirit to you know, you can't leave it the work undone. So I'm not a good singer. I'm just gonna preface that that I didn't get blessed with the good voice in the family. I have others in the family that have that voice, so I'll apologize up front. But this song comes from . It's a healing song. We sing it when we sing it, when we do work on the floor and they ask the people to come down and they wrap them in blankets, they stand around them and sing this song. So I'll just do that.
[Matika singing prayer]
MATIKA: Thanks, relatives, for sticking with us through that one, we know it was a lot, but before we sign off today, we want to leave you with a few action items we can take as individuals and collectively, starting with filling out the form letter on our website and sending it to your congressmen and telling them to pass the newest version of VAWA. And we need another Senate hearing on MMIW.
DESI: And listen, it's not enough for just Indians to care. We are literally only two percent of the United States population. So we need non-Natives to care and we need their pocketbooks to care too. So donate to the hyperlinked organizations. And stop perpetuating the Pocahontas myth, stop the hyper sexualization of Indigenous women in this country.
MATIKA: Exactly. You know, and we can hold our local law enforcement officials accountable, especially if we are in states like Alaska, Montana, Washington, South Dakota, Arizona, New Mexico,
DESI: And run for political office. My God, we need sheriffs and coroners and mayors and state, city and county officials who care. So run. Throw your name in the hat. Let's do it.
MATIKA: And on a personal level, we can talk to our relatives. We can listen to our survivors, hold space, believe our survivors and keep our relatives in our prayers. You're not alone. We're with you.
DESI: Please consider becoming a patron on Patreon, follow us on Instagram @amrpodcast, or send donations through PayPal. You can find all of that on our website www.allmyrelations.com. Thank you to all those that made this episode possible. Thanks, MK and Abigail for joining us. Shoutout to Quinna Hamby on the episode are made by yours truly. Thanks to Teo for creative direction, sound engineering and editing. [saying thanks] the West Shore Canoe family, Aunty Joanne Shannendoah and Max Levin for the music and thanks to our and our AMR team Will Paisley, Kristin Bolan, Edison Hunter, Jon Ayon, Lindsey Hightower, Keoni Rodriguez, Carly Sjordal and marketing intern Jamie Marquez-Bratcher takes a lot of minds to put this together. So thanks, all.