Sarah Deer, a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, testifies about missing and murdered indigenous women at a hearing of the House Subcommittee for Indigenous People of the United States on March 14, 2019. Photo courtesy Natural Resources Democrats

National Museum of the American Indian hosts 'Safety for Our Sisters' symposium

By Acee Agoyo

• WEBCAST: Safety for Our Sisters: Ending Violence Against Native Women

A symposium at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., will help draw attention to efforts to protect Native women from violence.

"Safety for Our Sisters: Ending Violence Against Native Women" on Thursday afternoon features a videotaped welcome from Rep. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico). As one of the first two Native women in Congress, the Pueblo of Laguna citizen is helping raise awareness of the struggles facing her American Indian and Alaska Native sisters.

"The silent crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women has been my top priority since long before being sworn into Congress," Haaland said last Wednesday at the first-ever hearing in the U.S. House of Representatives on the #MMIW movement.

"Indigenous women deserve to be protected like just anyone else in this country," said Haaland.

Yet participants in the NMAI event know that protecting Native women is a cause that hasn't been embraced by everyone in the nation's capital. A day before the historic #MMIW hearing, Republicans in another committee tried to remove the landmark tribal jurisdiction provisions from the Violence Against Women Act.

Native women fought for the inclusion of the provisions in order to strengthen their own governments. Sarah Deer, a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation who testified at the hearing, also pointed to the "historical mistrust" of outside agencies that have often failed to investigate and prosecute crimes in Indian Country.

"When you are a Native woman and your sisters and your aunts and your mother and your grandmother and your great-grandmother have all been victims of violence, and nobody's doing anything, why would you come forward?" asked Deer, who is participating in the NMAI symposium.

And as the last session of Congress came to close at the end of 2018, a male Republican lawmaker who is no longer in office held up legislation that would have begun to address the #MMIW crisis.

"Shameful," Rep. Norma Torres (D-California), a supporter of Savanna's Act, said of the last-minute maneuver that prevented the bill from becoming law.

The bill was named in honor of Savanna Marie Greywind, a 22-year-old woman from the Spirit Lake Nation who was brutally murdered after she went missing in North Dakota in 2017. It has since been reintroduced in the Senate as S.227.

"Our Native women deserve protection everywhere," Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the sponsor of Savanna's Act, told tribal leaders as they met for the winter session of the National Congress of American Indians in D.C. last month.

The NMAI symposium starts at 2pm Eastern and will be webcast at The agenda includes:
• Sarah Deer (citizen of the Muscogee [Creek] Nation of Oklahoma), a lawyer and professor of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University of Kansas.

• Mary Kathryn Nagle (Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma), a partner at Pipestem Law, P.C., where she specializes in federal Indian law and appellate litigation.

• Cherrah Giles (Muscogee), Board Chair of the National Indigenous Women's Resource Center and an advocate who has worked to protect Native women and children.

• Marita Growing Thunder (Fort Peck Assiniboine Sioux Tribes), a student at the University of Montana who started the Save Our Sisters walk in 2017

• Jaime Black (Métis), a multidisciplinary artist based in Winnipeg, Canada, and the creator of The REDress Project, which focuses on the issue of missing or murdered Indigenous women.

• Rep. Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo) will give a videotaped welcome to the symposium.

• Sari Horwitz, a three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the Washington Post, moderates the symposium. Horwitz is the author of the Post’s award-winning series Justice in Indian Country.

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