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American Indian Women: Sing a Song for The Dead and Disappeared

an endangered species
an endangered species
public domain

I wanna live with a cinnamon girl,

I could be happy the rest of my life

with a cinnamon girl-

Neil Young

From the time of first contact with Europeans, American Indian women have born a special part of the burden of colonization and genocide. Commonly traveling without female companions, Native women were often the only hope settlers had for sex, partnership, or marriage. Often times Indigenous women were married off to white men in the hopes of keeping peace. Sometimes marrying Indian women meant an opportunity to obtain land or mineral rights on the land. Thrust into a different society with an entirely different view of what a woman should be, this must have been especially difficult for tribal women. In their home villages women were often empowered, owners of the home and government figures. This contrasted greatly with the suppressed European woman without suffrage, much less any notion of liberation. However far down white women were on the social ladder, Indian women certainly were a rung below that. For centuries American Indian women were referred to as squaws-literally "vagina" in Algonquin. This is perhaps the clearest indication of how Native women were viewed by their non-Native counterparts.

I shot her down

because she made me slow-

Johnny Cash

Alternately viewed as property, slaves, beasts of burden, sexual playthings, prostitutes, or just plain old savages, Native women were alternately desired and despised by settlers. Even General George Armstrong Custer had relations with a Cheyenne woman after killing her father, fathering perhaps two children with her. He never formally acknowledged the woman or his children, abandoning them in favor of his white wife. Such is the plight of tribal women, so often used and tossed aside when no longer needed.

So I gave her the gun

I shot her-

Jimi Hendrix

In these modern times, one would think their lot had improved. This is hardly the case. As with the rest of the American Indian population, tribal women are seldom seen and never heard. Finding baseline information on social disorders is particularly difficult. However it is well known in Indian Country that American Indian women in both Canada and the United States are disappearing at alarming rates, to the tune of several hundred a year. We're not talking left for an unannounced vacation or visiting family, we're talking gone, vanished, disappeared without a trace. Further, it is known that the explosive growth of the oil industry in the Dakotas has resulted in the trafficking there of Native women to suit the oil worker's fancies. Beyond even this are the numbers we do know. Federal statistics show tribal women are almost three times as likely to suffer a violent or sexual assault, and eighty five percent of the time the perpetrator is a non-Native. Since tribal governments cannot arrest or try non-Natives for offenses on Indian land, it's generally a free for all for thugs and perverts who seek to victimize tribal women.

Down by the river

I shot my lady-

Neil Young

The gauntlet facing Indigenous women is therefore well established, historical, and ongoing. Yet before we draw obvious and glaring conclusions we must also consider additional baseline data. We have learned in the last year of the ongoing human trafficking of Native children, particularly by so-called Christian adoption agencies. The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) had presumably ended this practice in 1978, sad to say we now know different. We know American Indian youth attempt suicide in shockingly high numbers. American Indian men continue to be victims of police brutality, unjust incarceration, and longer sentencing than other races. Finally, an American Indian man dies about twenty years younger on average, than a white man. Underfunded, understaffed, and often poorly trained, tribal authorities are as a general rule incapable of handling any of this adequately. Out of sight and out of mind, the American Indian population too often lies well under the radar of federal responses.

Never Again-

Nickelback

Let us take a moment to mourn the Native woman recently found in Kentucky who was not only murdered but scalped, and recognize to be born American Indian is to be born with a huge target on our backs. Our lives are cheap, our virtue ignored, our cultural admonitions obliterated. Those that survive do so with the grotesque scars as evidence of the worst this society has to offer. The war against us may be more criminal and legislative than military these days, but the carnage is no less deadly. Our used and savaged bodies pave the way to North America's modern decay. Shame on you Canada. Shame on you America. You will not escape the reckoning.

My girfriend Anna Mae

used to talk about uranium

Her head was

full of bullets and her body dumped-

Buffy St. Marie