“Let go the pain you are holding in your mind, your shoulders, your heart, all the way to your feet. Let go the pain of your ancestors to make way for those who are heading in our direction.” – Joy Harjo
Annita Lucchesi serves as the Founder and Director of Research + Outreach at Sovereign Bodies Institute. She is of Cheyenne descent and currently lives on her Cheyenne homelands in Montana.
Annita shared some facts to shed light on the severity of the harm towards Indigenous people.
A: Half of the identified perpetrators are Non-Native, demonstrating the fact that these are acts of violence that they are suffering from the actions of people outside the community.
The National Institute of Justice actually conducted a study showing that “American Indian and Alaska Native women and men suffer violence at alarmingly high rates.” They found that “97% of female victims and 90% of male victims. Fewer American Indian and Alaska Native victims have experienced intraracial violence in their lifetime — 35 percent of female victims and 33 percent of male victims. The study found similar results for all types of lifetime and past-year experiences.” Source
A: Murder cases are not properly invesigated.
Annita had conducted a research study with Abigail Echo-Hawk and found that “nearly 60% of police departments either did not respond to the request, or returned partial or compromised data — with some cities reporting an inability to identify Native victims, and others relying exclusively on human memory.” Source
A: Indigenous people are overlooked in the workforce…
“Prior to the pandemic, Native Americans had a higher unemployment rate than other racial groups, with a 7.5% unemployment rate in February 2020. As the pandemic took hold, the Native American unemployment rate jumped to an astonishing 28.6%—a level comparable to national unemployment during the Great Depression.” Source
…and women are being forced into abusive relationships and sexual trafficking.
“Indigenous people make up only 1.1% of the United States population, yet they account for nearly 25% of human trafficking victims.” Source
Annita’s Organization now serves over 450 Families and Survivors
Get involved by helping with policies, media coverage and spreading awareness.
Learn more about Annita Lucchesi:
To really dig into this topic a little deeper, we asked Crystal Cavalier-Keck to help share insight for us to better understand.
Crystal’s background and experience within the Indigenous community.
Crystal Cavalier-Keck is the co-founder of Seven Directions of Service with her husband. She is a citizen of the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation in Burlington, NC. She is a board member of the Haw River Assembly, the Women’s Resource Center in Alamance County, and Benevolence Farm. Crystal was a Fall Cohort of the Sierra Club’s Gender Equity and Environment Program and Women’s Earth Alliance (WEA) Accelerator for Grassroots Women Environmental Leaders in 2020. Crystal completed her Doctorate in Organization Leadership at the University of Dayton in August 2022, and her dissertation focused on the Social Justice issue of Missing Murdered Indigenous Women in Gas/Oil Pipelines in frontline communities. Her current projects focus on burden, exposure, risk, and health disparities among American Indians in environmental justice communities. Secondly, Crystal is working on inequities in our food system, which continue to disproportionately burden communities of color. Dismantling these inequities is imperative to achieve a sustainable food system and ultimately food justice.
What motivates you?
CRYSTAL: What motivates me is the idea of building up our next generation of leaders and changemakers to go out into the world, and tell stories that have been stifled or canceled out.
What disparities have you discovered for the Indigenous community in Healthcare, Education and Workforce?
C: This lack of representation of Indigenous voices in national policy-making, and global development forums and initiatives, is a loss for global ambitions in healthcare, education and labor.
How can a shift be made?
C: Being intentional and making space for Indigenous Peoples to have a seat and input at the table.
Can you share in detail the importance and impact of Senate Bill 168?
C: Being able to have telehealth services, after the pandemic ends for 180 days. Native Americans endure a legacy of healthcare disparities, leading to disproportionate disease rates. People living on remote reservations (PWNA) rely on Indian Health Service (IHS) clinics for medical care. Severely underfunded and understaffed for the size and location of the populations it serves, IHS focuses on healthcare crises rather than preventive care. Transportation too is an impediment to healthcare, because of the long distances to clinics and lack of transportation.
What can we do to help and learn more?
C: Just being proactive instead of reactive, learn, research and talk to elders in the communities you want to work in.
Learn more about Crystal Cavalier-Keck:
We continued to have this conversation with Kristin Welch.
Would you tell us about your Organization and how it came to fruition?
KRISTIN: Waking Women Healing Institute is a survivor and MMIW family led non-profit located in Gresham, WI. We serve Indigenous women/girls and native LGBTQ survivors of sexual violence and families of MMIW/P or Missing Murdered Indigenous Women/Persons. Our vision is to create a place in which we no longer experience settler colonial violence on both our lands and bodies. We do this through our 3 main tenants: Restore the Matriarchy, Uplift Survivor Voice, and Ignite spaces of healing. Our organization utilizes a comprehensive approach to reducing and eliminating violence through increasing access to culturally founded healing, improving responses through education, and justice work through systems change. This place came to be out of both dreaming and necessity, it was a vision of my mothers that started in the late 90’s and now has come to fruition. We also knew we had to build the place we needed for ourselves; one of justice, healing, and empowerment for and by Indigneous women. We were tired of the traumas our survivors of sexual violence and MMIW/P familes face when they navigate the justice systems, or in many instances, absolutely no movement or response at all. So we went to work, and will continue to do the work.
Why are missing Indigenous Girls and Women an Epidemic? How is it that 84% of Indigenous women have such a staggering number in generations of abuse?
K: To understand the epidemic, or genocide, we need to understand the history of the so called US. The root cause of the rates of violence against Indigenous women and instances of MMIW is removal from land, language, and oral history at the hands of the US government. This was done through boarding schools, acts of Congress, and human trafficking of Indigenous women since first contact. Sexual violence was a war tactic used against Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island (US) as a means to destroy the very backbones of our nations, our life givers, our women and girls. These acts of violence continue today in our public education systems, health care, and justice systems. The settler, colonial, and patriarchal mentality is that Indigneous peoples are less than, and Indigneous women & girls are objects to be bought and sold. Hypersexualization of Indigenous women & girls is a patriarchal norm, and is ingrained in every single institution in the US.
Much like our lands, the violence she (Mother Earth) faces, we too face. In areas of resource extraction, pipelines etc., violence against Indigenous women increases nearly 74%. This is because of the Man Camps, which are pop up cities of the pipeline workers that came into our territories by the 100’s. All parts of our wellness depends on our connection to land, it’s our pharmacy, our mental/emotional wellbeing, and access to foods & housing. When that was intentionally removed from us, it left us easy targets of violence, some say vulnerable, but I feel the correct term is target. This was an intentional act, to remove “the Indian problem”. Our governance structures were undermined and devalued, which means in many cases we rely on the US justice systems to oversee these cases. Perpetrators of violence are well aware of the jurisdictional issues, the lack of prosecution, and media coverage on our cases, thus making us easy targets. Because they know, no one will go looking for us, no one will share our story world wide. It’s a silent epidemic, we feel invisible; but we hope to change that.
How can this be broken?
K: We can learn more about the many issues leading up to the problem of MMIW/P. The land theft, the horrific violent history over the last 500 years that we have endured. We can uplift the stories of our survivors and MMIW/P families so that their voices can be heard, they have all the solutions to these issues, they are the experts, so we just need to listen to them. We can honor the inherent rights of Indigenous peoples as the original stewards of these lands. That means defending land, defending water, honoring our sacred sites, and protecting tribal sovereignty. Not just for our future, but for everyone’s.
We need everyone to realize that this is not just an issue for Indigneous women, girls and LGBTQ, but is everyone’s issues to address.
What resources and tools are available for our young girls so they do not fall into this pattern?
K: As Indigenous peoples, the most valuable tools to prevent this violence from happening to us is connection to our lands, connection to our original languages, and connection to our original ways of being. Restoring our access to housing, healthcare, mental health, gender norms, and traditional governance systems is healing and prevention of this violence. We have many grassroots across Turtle Island that are doing just that, and it’s beautiful. It’s a reclamation of our power, our ways are equitable, they are just, and founded in peace. Stronghearts Native Hotline, NIWRC, and our organization are just a few great examples of that change in action.
What response can we as a Community take to help?
K: We have to be willing to look inward and evaluate our own bias and colonial thinking, then ask ourselves, what are we going to do about it? Ultimately we need an entire shift in thinking across the US, one from individualism and competition to that of community and shared collective power. Because at the core that’s what patriarchy is, the need to control and exploit power. When we start to value life again, all life, including the natural world, we will begin to see a difference in the way we treat each other.
We also ask that allies engage, use your privilege to uplift these issues and change them. Support our survivors and MMIW/P families through donations of time, resources, connections, and funding.
How can we as Mothers stand with you to make a difference?
K: As mothers. it’s instinct to protect and nurture. I think that is all we can ask. To stand with us and protect our sisters, daughters, nieces, and mothers. Rally with us, walk with us, attend vigils, pay attention to policy that affects women’s rights, get involved in justice systems work. Stand with us to protect land & water, because what is happening to her (Mother Earth) is happening to us too. If we don’t defend life now, there will be no future for our children or grandchildren.
Learn more about Kristin Welch: