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Ending violence against Indigenous people starts with ending silence around it

Thursday, May 5 marks the National Day of Awareness for Murdered and Missing Indigenous People (MMIP), a day to acknowledge the violence that disproportionately affects Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people. It’s also a chance renew our commitment to combatting this ongoing epidemic and to ending the silence that surrounds it and tomorrow, we can signal our awareness and solidarity with the movement by wearing red.

Across the nation, thousands of Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people are victims of abuse, rape, abduction and murder, and many of their cases go unsolved. Indeed, it’s difficult to know exactly how many Indigenous people are missing or slain because federal databases are woefully incomplete and jurisdictional ambiguity between U.S. and tribal law enforcement makes it even harder to get a complete picture. Suffering and abuse on this scale should be a matter of national concern and outrage, but persistent and systemic racism and discrimination have allowed this crisis to continue.

The impact of these crimes is especially acute here in Washington, which is among the states with the highest number of MMIP. American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) women go missing at over four times the rate of white women in our state. As the home of 29 federally recognized tribes, Washington has a special responsibility to advocate for justice and safety for our Native American friends, family, neighbors and colleagues. It’s customary at the UW to recognize the tribal nations of Washington and the Coast Salish peoples as part of our land acknowledgement, and it’s vital that we live up to the spirit and intention of those words through our actions.

Throughout our great public University, dedicated and talented individuals and organizations are engaged in the movement to raise awareness and end this scourge of violence, work that also falls under the umbrella of our Population Health Initiative. Recently, the Northwest Center for Public Health Practice hosted a training by Dr. Charlene Aqpik Apok, executive director and co-founder of Data for Indigenous Justice, to understand and address the systemic gaps in information that are exacerbating the crisis. The UW School of Medicine offers the Indian Health Pathway Certificate Program to better prepare medical students to meet the needs of AI/AN people and communities.

UW students are also deeply engaged in the movement. The intertribal student organization First Nations has raised money for the Na’ah Illahee Fund, which promotes leadership of Indigenous women.  And in April, student athlete Rosalie Fish, a member of the Cowlitz Tribe and a descendant of the Muckleshoot Tribe, was selected as a Truman Scholar in recognition of her powerful activism to raise awareness of MMIP. The American Indian Student Commission, led by Director Madison Truitt, sponsored a bill, passed by the ASUW, to recognize May as Missing and Indigenous Persons Month. In Madison’s words, “This day of recognition honors the lives of our Indigenous family by continuing to shed light on the countless tragedies involving our Indigenous people, highlighting the need for ongoing grassroots advocacy to change laws, policies, and protocols and encouraging the allocation of increased resources at the tribal, federal, and state levels to end these injustices.”

As a society and a community, we share a responsibility to raise awareness and end the crisis of violence affecting Indigenous women, girls, LGBTQIA+, and two-spirit people. This epidemic demands attention, resources and action at the federal, state and local levels, and together, we can be part of the movement to make the world safer for all Indigenous people.