"Am I my sister's keeper?" (Genesis 4:9). This is a question that we as a nation have been asking for far too long as we fail to protect and seek justice for our Indigenous sisters. Our country is facing a crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women. A 2018 report by the Urban Indian Health Institute found 506 unique cases of missing and murdered American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls in 71 cities. 153 of the cases identified by the report do not exist according to law enforcement records.
As Christians, we know the answer to the question is a resounding yes, we are our sisters' keepers. If we are tempted to say that we are not personally responsible for the deaths of these Indigenous women, we should remind ourselves of the woman in Judges 19. She was sexually abused to the point of death, and the Levite priest sent a piece of her body to each of the twelve tribes of Israel in condemnation, saying that all of Israel was responsible. All of Israel had allowed things to get to a point where such horrific events could happen. All of Israel had to grapple with the rape culture that had thrived, and all of Israel had to work to end it. We are our sister's keepers.
We know that Indigenous women and girls experience violence "at disproportionate rates due to the impacts of colonization and the jurisdictional challenges currently facing tribes." According to a study by the National Institute of Justice, 84% of American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced sexual violence, stalking, or intimate partner violence in their lifetimes. Around 97% of the female victims suffer violence at the hand of a non-native perpetrator. However, Native American tribes are not allowed to charge non-Natives with crimes, even if those crimes happened on tribal land. The only time they are allowed to charge non-Natives with crimes is when Congress gives them specific authority to do so in a law.
As we honor Indigenous people's day on October 11, we must respond to our sisters' "blood [that] cries out to [God and to us] from the ground" (Genesis 4:10 NRSV). As people and as a nation we have ignored the cries for too long.
One way that we can respond is by asking our Senators to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The current iteration of VAWA is critical because, among other things, it holds predators who prey on Indigenous women accountable. The bill grants tribal courts the ability to prosecute non-Native people for sex-trafficking, sexual violence, and stalking. The bill passed the House in March, now we must ask our Senators to do the same. Email your Senators here.
Immigration and Women & Girls Campaign Manager