Indigenous Women Combat the Global Epidemic of Violence Against Indigenous Women and Girls

March 29, 2016
Posted by AAIP News on 03/29/2016

For Immediate Release: March 23, 2016

Contact: Betty Lyons (Onondaga Nation), President & Executive Director of the American Indian Law Alliance, # 1-315-382-9888

Indigenous Women Combat the Global Epidemic of Violence Against Indigenous Women and Girls

[United Nations Headquarters, New York City, Turtle Island]

Indigenous women joined together at the annual session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women to demonstrate the links between the exploitation of Indigenous lands by extractive mining companies and the global epidemic of violence and sexual atrocities suffered by Indigenous women and children.

The American Indian Law Alliance organized the official parallel event of the 60th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women Session (CSW). The event, “Indigenous Women’s Empowerment: Combating the Global Epidemic of Murdered & Missing Indigenous Women,” drew a standing-room only crowd of relatives, dignitaries, friends and other attendees at the Church Center of the UN. 

The priority theme of this year’s CSW session is: “Women’s empowerment and its link to sustainable development. The Indigenous panel highlighted the link between extractive industries invading and exploiting Indigenous territories (the opposite of sustainable development) which leads to increased violence and atrocities against Indigenous women and children. This violence finds its roots in the impunity granted by settler nations under the the colonial doctrine of discovery and domination.

The doctrine of discovery and domination is the root cause of the violence against our women, girls and peoples. Until this is addressed, how can the situation of violence against Indigenous woman and girls improve?” Asked Betty Lyons (Onondaga Nation), President & Executive Director of the American Indian Law Alliance and panelist. 

The doctrine of discovery and domination stems from a series of Papal Bulls issued in the 15th Century as European explorers sailed the Atlantic to “discover” the so-called New World, permitted those explorers to seize any lands occupied by non-Christians in the names of European powers. This racist doctrine remains the basis of Indian land law across North America and beyond. It is still cited by the Supreme Courts of both the U.S and Canada.  

Tia Oros Peters (Shiwi), Executive Director of the Seventh Generation Fund for Indigenous Peoples and moderator of the panel said, “We see that Indigenous women and girls, our bodies, our lives and futures remain the final frontier in the ongoing struggle against settler colonialism. This violence that harms the land through mega extractive industrial development has manifested in brutality against our bodies and spirits. But we will not remain silent.” 

The panelists represented a wide range of experiences and perspectives, including survivors sharing their deeply personal experiences, a psychiatrist expressing the ways the epidemic of violence affects entire Indigenous Nations, a direct service provider and a legal expert.

“I am strong because I am my mother’s daughter. My mother was more than a one dimensional flattened story, and sharing the narrative of her life honors her as a person. Honoring her story matters,” explained panelist Noel Altaha (White Mountain Apache). “We also need to have a safety net and support group for those impacted by tragedy. As the daughter of a murdered Indigenous woman I am dedicated to honoring her story.”

All these unique perspectives came together to weave a very full picture of the problems we are facing as well as a holistic vision of some of the solutions. The panel touched upon key issues such as intergenerational trauma and the need for healing, including traditional healing.

“The sexual trauma is like a virus that spreads throughout urban as well as isolated Indigenous communities. When a young woman is assaulted, raped, and killed it affects everyone around her—her brothers, sisters, parents, cousins, aunts, uncles, friends, coworkers, everyone. When the backdrop of this catastrophic event is intergenerational trauma, the effect is compounded,” said Dr. Mary Hasbah Roessel (Navajo), a psychiatrist at Santa Fe Indian Hospital. “The effects of this combined trauma is extensive and far reaching, with increased suicide and higher addiction rates.”

The panel provided solutions and suggestions, including lifting up the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) as a declaration that must be fully implemented to help stop the pandemic of violence. 

All the panelists acknowledged that Indigenous women and girls have the solutions to issues directly affecting them and must be part of all discussions on these issues.

Dawn Memee Harvard (Wikwemikong First Nation), President of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, said, “Violence knows no boundaries and respects no border, as the experience of Indigenous women across our nations has shown. But we know that together we are stronger, and therefore in the partnership and unity with our peoples and our allies, we shall defend the basic human rights of all our Indigenous sisters across the Americas until all nations acknowledge that Indigenous women are so valuable, courageous and important. Anything less is simply unacceptable.”


To see more from yesterday’s discussion, you can see some of the discussion on twitter from some of the sponsoring organizations: @NWAC_CA; @AILAnyc; @7GenFund and using the hashtag #StolenSisters.

Sponsors of the parallel event included the Onondaga Nation, American Indian Law Alliance, Seventh Generation Fund for Indigenous Peoples, Native Women’s Association of Canada, Native Americans in Philanthropy, & the Southern Diaspora Research & Development Center.