Indigenous Women Make Electoral Strides, Face Ongoing Challenges and Abuse

Recent news stories about indigenous women have run the gamut from significant election wins to the ongoing indifference to the horrors of missing and murdered indigenous women.

As you have time during the holiday break, hold these stories in your hearts.

  • Native women make electoral strides
  • Standing Rock pushed back against voter suppression; Native woman beats State Rep who pushed voter ID law.
  • U.S. cities show weak reporting on missing and murdered indigenous women
  • Class action lawsuit started over forced sterilization of First Nations women in Saskatchewan

News summaries and story links below.

Native Women Make Electoral Firsts

Many Minnesotans likely are aware that Peggy Flanagan (White Earth Anishinaabe) was elected the state’s Lt. Governor, part of Tim Walz’s ticket. She becomes the the first Native American woman elected to statewide executive office not only in Minnesota but the country, Wikipedia says.

Perhaps less well known is that two Native women were elected to Congress, Sharice Davids (Ho-Chunk) in Kansas and Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo) in New Mexico.

Here’s how a Washington Post article summed up the importance of these elections:

But this is about more than a marginalized group seeing its reflection in Congress. For Native American women, this is also about asserting their ancestral right to leadership in a society that has overlooked and undermined the power of indigenous women.

Native American women held tremendous power in pre-colonial, egalitarian societies across the Americas. Yet as a result of generations of colonialism, indigenous women have been made invisible, virtually written out of history and out of leadership by colonial officials.

Comment: These election results were widely celebrated in Indian Country, but not universally. One Native List Serve I follow had commentary arging when Native people win elected office, they end up in the very colonial domination system that has caused them so much harm.

Standing Rock Pushes Back Against Voter Suppression; Native Woman Beats State Rep Who Pushed Voter ID law

In other election news, North Dakota tried to suppress the Native vote by requiring addresses for voter registration. Reservation residents often have P.O. Box number, not a street address.  It was one many voter suppression tactics used around the country.

Here is an inspirational “Standing Rock the Vote” video from the Lakota Peoples Law Project (it runs less than 90 seconds.)

Also of note, Ruth Buffalo of Fargo “became the first Native American Democratic woman elected to the North Dakota Legislature,” the New York Times reported. She defeated an incumbent who had pushed voter restriction legislation. The article provides data on Native American vote mobilization in North Dakota:

… galvanized by anger over the state’s voter ID law and aided by the intensive efforts of tribal leaders and advocacy groups, they turned out for last week’s election in numbers unprecedented even for a presidential election, much less a midterm.

In Sioux County, where the Standing Rock Indian Reservation is, turnout was up 105 percent from the last midterm elections in 2014 and 17 percent from the 2016 presidential election, according to data from the North Dakota secretary of state’s office. In Rolette County, home to the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, it was up 62 percent from 2014 and 33 percent from 2016. In Benson County, home to the Spirit Lake Nation, it was up 52 percent from 2014 and 10 percent from 2016.

Click on the link above for the full story, which includes a Q&A with Buffalo.

U.S. Cities Fail in Reporting on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women

A recent study, Violence Against American Indian and Alaska Native Women and the Criminal Justice Response: What is Known, highlights the inadequate reporting on missing and murdered indigenous women in urban settings, where approximately 70 percent of Native Americans live.

The MPR Nov. 15 story, Police in many U.S. cities fail to track murdered, missing indigenous women, said researchers asked police departments from 71 cities across the country for the data on missing and murdered indigenous women and “found more silence and confusion than answers.” It continued, “nearly 60 percent of police departments either did not respond to the request, or returned partial or compromised data — with some cities reporting an inability to identify Native victims, and others relying exclusively on human memory.”

The Star Tribune Nov. 14 story, Study: Weak reporting on missing, murdered Native women, said the report was released “as multiple bills at the state and federal level have been proposed to address the issue and improve data collection, including Savanna’s Act, which the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs voted Wednesday to send to the full chamber for consideration.”

Click on the links above for more details.

First Nations Women Sue Over Sterilizations

Sixty indigenous women from Saskatchewan joined in a class action lawsuit against the government and health care providers for forced sterilizations, some of which occurred as recently as 2017, according to a report on CBC radio: Indigenous women kept from seeing their newborn babies until agreeing to sterilization, says lawyer. It starts out:

As a senator calls for a nationwide review of the forced sterilization of Indigenous women, a lawyer representing a proposed class action detailed the women’s accounts of being sterilized without proper and informed consent.

“In the throes of labour … they would be approached, harassed, coerced into signing these consent forms,” said Alisa Lombard, an associate with Maurice Law, the first Indigenous-owned national law firm in Canada.

Click on the link for more details.

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