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Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s March highlights a persistent but underreported problem

Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s March
Native Lives Matter
A photo from from last year's Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s March hosted by Native Lives Matter.

For the Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition (MIWSAC), Valentine’s Day isn’t just a day to celebrate love, but also an opportunity to remind people of the dangers of domestic violence.

Every year, dozens of Minnesota women are killed as a result of domestic violence, according to an annual report by the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women. For more than 25 years, the reports have documented the state’s homicide rates among spouses and domestic partners. And last year, at least 18 women died as a result of domestic violence — a statistic that has remained relatively unchanged in Minnesota since the 1980s.

But officials with MIWSAC said if you break those numbers down by race and ethnicity, it’s clear that domestic violence is still disproportionately harming the state’s communities of color and Native communities most. That’s why today, MIWSAC is hosting the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s March in Minneapolis, an event co-sponsored by the Minnesota Indian Women's Resource Center, Indigenous Women's Life Net and Native Lives Matter. The goal is to raise awareness around domestic violence among the state’s Native American community and spur fundraising efforts for American Indian advocacy groups working to provide resources and other services for victims.

“It really is something that is a huge issue for Native communities, whether they’re urban or whether they’re on a reservation,” said Amanda Watson with MIWSAC, “We’re trying to create more visibility for the issue.”

An overrepresented population

According to a 2015 report from the Minnesota Battered Women’s Coalition (MBWC), five out of 22 domestic-violence-related-homicide victims in Minnesota were Native American that year. Yet Native Americans only make up slightly more than 1 percent of the state’s total population.

“One of the things we found was that about 25 percent of the victims in our report were Native women,” said MBWC program manager Safia Khan. “That’s a really disproportionate number.”

On top of that, Khan said, it’s not unusual to see Native women making up a disproportionate amount of women incarcerated in the state’s prisons as well. But despite Native women making up an overrepresented population when it comes to domestic violence and within the state’s criminal justice system, she said, those same systems don’t often take American Indian culture or circumstances into account.

For example, Khan said, many Native women are afraid to call the police during domestic disputes because they’re afraid child protection services will get involved and they’ll lose their children. “We need to make systems more suited for the victims,” she said. “Especially Native victims and communities of color.”

A need for more affordable housing

Patina Park, executive director of the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center, said that because Native Americans make up such a small percentage of the state’s population, they’re often left out of larger conversations when it comes to allocating state or other philanthropic resources. “We have tangible solutions,” Park said. “But they need to be supported and we need the resources to do it.”

For generations, she said, American Indian communities in Minnesota have been subject to the same problems that most low-income communities face on a regular basis, which also often prevent them from leaving abusive relationships. Namely, she said, a lack of economic opportunities and access to affordable housing. “Every one of my staff and programs here will identify housing as the biggest problem,” she said.

At the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center in south Minneapolis, they offer 13 government subsidized, affordable housing units designed to house whole families. However, the waiting line for just one of those units can be up to three years.

Until that dilemma is solved, Park said, many American Indians living in Minnesota will continue to have problems when it comes to leaving an abusive relationship. And while using events like today’s march to spread awareness about the issue is necessary right now, she said, it’s important that lawmakers and other funders understand the importance of building more housing in the immediate future.

“There’s such a housing shortage,” Park said. “We need to make sure there’s more safe and affordable housing.”

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