Professor Walker’s Talk

Perry Willig, Staff Writer and Artist, Kvasir Contributor

On February 3rd, 2019,  I attended Polly Walker’s discussion on the large scale of Women and Girls in Native American tribes who are kidnapped and/or murdered. Walker started with the history of the Savanna Greywind Bill. Named after an indigenous woman who was killed in Fargo, this bill intended to improve the federal government’s response to violence aimed at these women. The Senate passed the bill and so did the House technically, but according to Walker the bill was rewritten so that it was, “all bark and no bite.”

With this defeat, indigenous communities in the U.S. and Canada have responded with research and community engagement to raise awareness and do something about the issue. The first thing that shocked me during this portion of the talk was not just the incredible number of kidnapped and murdered women/girls, but how little these crimes were reported. In the United Indian Health Institute’s report on the subject, a statistic appears on the left-hand side: there were 5,712 cases of MMIWG (missing/murdered indigenous women/girls) in 2016, but only 116 of them were logged into the Department of Justice’s databases. In the study, 71 city police departments and 1 state agency were surveyed. Of those 40 provided data, while 14 agencies did not provide any valuable information, and 18 still have a pending request, even with the enforcement of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The study is organized partially by geography, and although Pennsylvania was not used in the study, it is still our job to stay aware of the fact that this is a problem in indigenous communities, and large evidence supporting that institutionalized racism persists in these groups. The report says that “these cities highlight the need for changes to public information in cooperation from law enforcement agencies.” Yes, it is not coincidental that this information was withheld from these groups. It is also a continued consequence made from White colonization.

I have to say honestly that I rarely think about how I am at a school that is on land owned by the Oneida nation. If it wasn’t for Walker’s opening to Peace and Conflict related events, in which she honors the fact that we are on Oneida territory, it would quite possibly not enter my mind at all.

I encourage readers to look deeper into this subject. In my short article I have scratched the surface of this problem. In addition to learning through research such as the Urban Indian Health Institute’s report (which is free online) on MMIWG, readers can learn through indigenous art. I would recommend the band A Tribe Called Red’s’ YouTube page and watch their music videos. This amazing group combines dubstep and Pow Wow music to spread the beauty of the Halluci Nation and other groups to current listeners and viewers. Though most of their music in instrumental, they have songs such as “Black Snakes” and “Woodcarver” which delve into the institutionalized racism that indigenous groups face in America.