On Indigenous People’s Day, Let’s Talk About the Injustices Native Women Face
“All inequality is not created equal,” said Kimberlé Crenshaw, lawyer, civil rights activist and intersectional feminist, in a poignant interview with Time. Crenshaw is credited with coining the term “intersectional feminism” in 1989, a term that became a buzzword in headlines and on social media after the global outcry against racial injustice in 2020.
But what is intersectional feminism actually and why is it so important?
Today, on Indigenous People’s Day (the first to be officially commemorated by the White House), let’s talk about intersectional feminism and its role in illuminating and eradicating the injustices Indigenous women face.
What is intersectional feminism and why does it matter?
Intersectional feminism pertains to the overlapped and concurrent experiences of people who face inequalities based on their gender, class, race, sexuality, disability or immigrant status and the relationship amongst those concurring forms of oppression. For example, a white man and a white woman might have a different experience in the workplace and different barriers based on gender. Moreover, a white woman’s experience most likely will not be identical to a Black, Latina, Asian or Indigenous woman’s experience in the workplace because of race. As you diversify social characteristics, the barriers and bias a person is susceptible increases.
How does intersectionality pertain to Indigenous women and their experiences with discrimination, bias and violence?
We can look at media headlines to see what happens when race and gender bias intersect. In September 2021, Gabby Petito, a 22-year-old Youtuber, made national headlines after her disappearance and, later reported, homicide following her cross-country roadtrip with her fiancé, Brian Laundrie. More than 700 Indigenous people (mostly girls) went missing throughout the past 10 years in Wyoming, the same state where Petito disappeared. However, they received far less media attention, time and coverage. Since 2000, Indigenous people have made up 21% of homicides in Wyoming, even though they are only 3% of the population, according to a statewide report issued in 2020. Moreover, only 30% of Indigenous homicide victims made the news, compared to 51% of white victims.
These statistics are not only true of the state of Wyoming, but also nationwide.
- Indigenous women and girls are murdered at a rate 10 times higher than all other ethnicities (U.S. Department of Justice)
- Murder is the third leading cause of death for Indigenous women (Centers for Disease Control).
- The majority of these murders are committed by non-Native people on Native-owned land. (Urban Indian Health Institute)
- More than 4 out of 5 Indigenous women have experienced violence (84.3%) (National Institute of Justice Report).
Missing and murdered Indigenous women often go unreported due to poor recordkeeping, racial misclassification and a lack of media coverage. These grave realities are only exacerbated by the lack of communication and issues of jurisdiction between tribal law enforcement and state, local and federal government. For example, in 2016, the National Crime Information Center reported 5,712 cases of missing American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls. In a striking comparison, the U.S. Department of Justice Missing Persons database only reported 116 cases.
How does intersectional feminism tie into advocacy for Indigenous women today?
Joe Biden is the first U.S. president to mark Indigenous Peoples’ Day, a big move after centuries of federal policies that have sought to erase, displace and assimilate Native culture. There is value in sharing the history of violence against Indigenous women and men, as well as their resilience, the brilliance of their culture and their pioneering impact on the formation of America as its first inhabitants.
When it comes to advocacy for Indigenous women, we each have a part to play. As allies, we must pass the mic to Indigenous women to lead the conversation on the unique inequalities they face and the necessary reform they seek. As allies, we must advocate for local, state and federal governments to invest in Tribal Nations as they govern their communities and make decisions. We must petition for a more complete and accurate depiction of U.S. history taught in schools and public spaces nationwide. Most importantly, we must push for the visibility of Indigenous women and their experiences with violence and discrimination.
Indigenous Peoples’ Day is an opportunity to have important conversations about intersectional feminism and take action to address the disparities that Native women face in everyday society. In the famous words of Crenshaw, “If you see inequality as a ‘them’ problem or ‘unfortunate other’ problem that is a problem.”
What can we do to advocate for Indigenous women? Be sure to check out this episode of the Modern Guide to Equality on Indigenous People & Climate Justice.