Tri-Lateral Work Group Meeting on Violence Against Indigenous Women, Mexico City, Mexico

October 2, 2018
Remarks by Nicole Matthews

Boozhoo Indinawe-maaganag! Nicole Matthews Zhaaginaashimong. Manidoo- Bineshiikwe indigo. Migizi indoodem. Gaa-waabaabiganiikaag indoonjibaa.

Greetings my relatives! My English name is Nicole Matthews, and my Indian name is Spirit Bird Woman. I am Eagle clan, and I am from the White Earth Band of Ojibwe.

I am truly honored to have the opportunity to participate in this Tri-lateral working group on Violence Against Indigenous Women.

I am the Executive Director of the Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition, which is a statewide Tribal Coalition and a National Tribal Technical Assistance Provider. We provide technical assistance to Tribal Sexual Assault Services Program grantees, to tribes who are addressing or want to address Sex Trafficking, and to Programs serving Indigenous Victims of Sex Trafficking in Urban Areas.

Violence Against Women from all walks of life has been visible and streaming across the internet and the media in recent times, and yet still so much work is needed to adequately address this problem. We are drowning in a sea of toxic masculinity, patriarchy, and racism, with little or no accountability for those perpetrating violence against Indigenous women. It is no wonder that we have a lack of reporting in many communities, because there are inadequate and even harmful responses to our relatives when they do report. We cannot rely ONLY on criminal justice based strategies to violence against Indigenous women. The criminal justice system is not working as we had hoped it would, and instead we have seen high incarceration rates of our relatives, while non-Indigenous perpetrators of violence continue to perpetrate violence without consequence. We need to return to and strengthen our cultural and community based strategies to addressing violence against Indigenous women, and we need funding to develop and support culturally based prevention programs so we are not only responding to violence, but are creating changes for our future. We know that when we support and protect our life givers, we are also supporting and protecting our communities and our future generations. We have seen great success in prevention strategies that include our men and our youth. In fact our youth have taken on amazing leadership on many issues in recent years.

Our understanding of the full scope of Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women is at the beginning stages, and we have a long way to go before we can gather the stories of all our relatives. In addition, our trans sisters and our Two Spirit/LGBTQ relatives are experiencing high rates of violence and have been largely invisible. We not only need more data on this issue, but we need to address the invisibility of this issue. When one of our Indigenous relatives goes missing or is murdered, there is very little media attention or response to the issue. There is no public outcry, no large search parties, and our faces are not all over the television screen. When we do see our stories in the media, they show the persons mug shot on the screen and find ways to blame her rather then treating her with the respect and dignity she deserves. We need to increase the national attention to this issue, and hold systems and media outlets accountable to Indigenous women.

Our women are facing incredible violence on the streets and in their homes every day. When doing interviews with Indigenous women victims of sex trafficking, one woman told me that a sex buyer told her, “I thought we killed all of you.” We know that this is one of many similar stories of our sisters who are being used and exploited in sex trafficking. We need to hear the stories of all our relatives, and in order to do that, we need to fund the research. One of the gaps in data is with our LGBTQ/Two Spirit relatives who are used in sex trafficking. Our organization is working to address that gap, and hoping to conduct national research on this issue. Only when we listen to victims and survivors will we learn about their needs for services, healing, and intervention; and only when we hold perpetrators accountable and put an end to racism, sexism, and patriarchy will we find solutions for ending gender based violence.

In closing, I am honored to be here with you all today to share not only the problems but also the strengths and strategies. There is so much wisdom in this room, as well as in our communities, in our families, and in our youth. We must find more opportunities to work together – to get out of our silos and work with other Indigenous communities – with other social justice movements – and with other communities of color. We are powerful when we are all together, because we share the collective wisdom or our ancestors; and when we put all our hearts and minds together, we will win.

Miigwetch Bizidawiyeg! Thank you all for listening!


Remarks by Leanne Guy
As Native women in this movement to end violence, we know first-hand the devastating impact violence has had on our tribal communities. We see and hear the stories of this violence as it plays out in our communities. We feel the heart wrenching pain of what our tribal communities are going through. We hear the deep inconsolable cries from family members whose child, sister, auntie, mom, or grandmother has gone missing and later found murdered. We know the injustices of how many of these cases are handled. We also know that many of these cases are directly related to domestic violence, rape, and sex trafficking. We know the intense level of healing that needs to happen, which for many families includes closure of knowing what happened to their beloved child, sister, auntie, mom, or grandmother.