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MMIWG2S: Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls & Two-Spirit People
Countless Indigenous women, girls and two-spirits go missing or are murdered across Canada and the United States. We expose this ongoing genocide's causes, perpetrators, and the fight for justice.
News Beat is a multi-award-winning podcast that melds hard-hitting journalism with hip-hop to inform, educate, and inspire. In this episode, we explore the ongoing genocide against Native communities throughout Canada and the United States.
Bernadette Smith scours the depths of the Red River in Manitoba for her missing sister and other women and children murdered and dumped in its murky waters.
Duana Johnson comforts families of those who’ve vanished from reservations throughout the U.S. Northwest.
Mary Kathryn Nagle battles for justice on behalf of the mothers, daughters, sisters, aunties, and nieces stolen, tortured, raped, and killed.
These Native women represent the countless voices extinguished by the ongoing genocide confronted by the MMIWG2S movement.
Who’s committing these atrocities, and why isn’t more being done to stop them?!?
This special episode of News Beat podcast—published in tandem with our friends over at Unf*cking The Republic (UNFTR)—delves into the mystery, horrors, and heartbreak defining this crisis, searching for answers to these and many other haunting questions centuries in the making.
South Carolina-by-way-of-New York City-based hip-hop sorceress LiKWUiD performs original verses to illuminate the epidemic, and mission to end it.
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Why We Covered This Topic
A couple of years ago, before the COVID-19 pandemic, we stumbled upon the Facebook page of a group of volunteers who spent their weekends trawling a river in Manitoba in search of dumped bodies.
We had been researching the ghastly history of residential schools across the country, or perhaps the rise of the American Indian Movement in the United States—for episode ideas for this podcast or our livestream This Week In Social Justice—either way, we learned about the Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) movement and this tiny ragtag group dredging the Red River in Winnipeg for victims.
We became outraged, and captivated.
Who was abducting and killing all these women and girls? How the hell could this be happening?? Why wasn’t more being done?!?
We needed to expose this stuff. We needed to do a series of episodes, to really shine a light on these heinous crimes. We needed to get up there, somehow, and help.
Then the pandemic hit, Ahmaud Arbery was hunted and murdered while jogging, Breonna Taylor was gunned down in her sleep, and George Floyd was brutally tortured and murdered by a Minneapolis police officer, and among other things, we switched guns to cover ‘When Epidemics Collide: Coronavirus, Criminal Justice & Poverty,’ ‘Coronavirus Behind Bars: Crisis in New York,’ ‘Florida Jails & Bans on Visitation,’ ‘COVID-19: How Racism Fuels Higher Coronavirus Death Rates,’ ‘Redlining & Climate Change: A Deadly Combination,’ ‘Defund Police: What It Means & How It Would Really Work,’ ‘#SayHerName: Confronting 400 Years of State-Sanctioned Violence Against Black Women,’ and much more.
But we kept checking in on that little group’s Facebook page, and researching Indigenous communities, and MMIW, and learning more and more about the many historical and ongoing associated atrocities.
We also started to “pull some threads,” as they say, researching sources, and eventually, reaching out to several.
The Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls & Two-Spirit People (MMIWG2S) crisis remains grossly underreported and under-addressed by media, governments, and law enforcement on both sides of the border, and it is costing countless lives.
“Countless,” because as you’ll learn, its victims have never been fully tallied, even today. There’s many reasons for this, but it boils down to centuries upon centuries of institutionalized racism and literal, codified doctrines of extermination against these communities throughout Canada, the United States, and other nations across the globe.
The lack of data, gross misidentification, refusal by law enforcement to investigate these cases, sex trafficking, and what we dub “interjurisdictional black holes and blame games” are just the tip of the iceberg in exacerbating these horrific, insidious crimes. And as you’ll learn, “horrific” and “insidious” don’t even begin to encapsulate the true depths of sheer horror and hatred and brutality MMIWG2S’s victims experience.
Our hope is that by shining more light on this, and highlighting the voices of those dedicating their lives fighting for accountability, and justice, and for it to end, more people will learn and become involved, and just maybe, help spark some change.
We’re including a long list of groups at the bottom of this newsletter for you all to visit and learn about and support. They need all the help they can get.
What You’ll Learn in This Episode
Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people face violence, abduction, rape, and murder at rates far above any other ethnic group within the United States and Canada.
After a years-long inquiry, the MMIWG2S crisis in Canada was declared a “genocide” in 2019.
The trauma experienced by Native communities is intergenerational, continuously passed down to the next, following centuries of discrimination, indoctrination, abductions, violence, and murder.
In 1978, the U.S. Supreme Court held that tribal nations cannot exercise criminal jurisdiction over non-Natives who enter tribal lands and commit crimes, any crime. This eliminated the ability of tribal nations to arrest and prosecute non-Natives who commit violent crimes against Native victims.
Instead of reinstating tribal jurisdiction over crimes perpetrated by non-Natives against Natives on tribal lands, the U.S. Supreme Court recently tossed it to states, who have a long history of under-investigating, or not investigating such cases at all—further impinging on Native sovereignty and creating the asinine and likely deadly analogical equivalent of the United States being forced to rely on Canada or Mexico to probe crimes committed against Americans, within the U.S. borders, by citizens of those foreign countries. (Huh? Exactly! Thanks, Kavanaugh.)
The majority of crimes committed against Native communities are perpetrated by non-Natives, who far too often skirt accountability.
There is a profound lack of data on the true number of missing and murdered Indigenous people in both the United States and Canada, due to reasons including misidentification, non-investigation, and simply failure to even count.
Corporate media does not cover missing persons cases involving Indigenous, Black, and Brown people equally as missing whites—instead, selectively and disproportionately extending mass coverage to the latter, while oftentimes completely ignoring the former, known as ‘Missing White Women Syndrome.’
Extra: The symbol of the MMIWG2S movement is a red handprint across the mouth, signifying the bloody, extinguished voices of its countless victims, and red, according to Native cultures, the color seen by spirits.
Who We Interviewed & What They Said
Bernadette Smith is a Canadian First Nations politician and member of the Anishinaabe and Métis communities. Her younger sister Claudette Osbourne disappeared in 2008 at the age of 21. Smith co-founded the all-volunteer group Drag The Red with others who were missing loved ones in 2014, following the horrific discovery of missing and murdered 15-year-old Tina Fontaine’s body weighed down below the murky waters of the Red River of the North. She’s also co-founder of the Coalition of Families of Missing and Murdered Women in Manitoba, and organizes the annual No Stone Unturned Concert for Missing and Murdered in Manitoba. She’s been serving as a member of the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba for Point Douglas since 2017. Check out and support all Bernadette’s initiatives, on Facebook at BernadetteSmithMB, and Twitter, @BSmithMB. Shoot her an email at bernadette[dot]smith[at]yourmanitoba[dot]ca.
“So people aren't stupid when they're doing this. They know that they can get away with it by putting somebody in the water because nobody was searching the water. And, you know, this young girl Felicia Solomon Osborne's mom was given a piece of her arm and a piece of her leg. She was found in the Red River, well those two body parts of hers, the rest of her was never recovered.”
Duana Johnson is a member of the Arrow Lakes Band of the Colville Confederated Tribes in Washington State, and lead administrator of the nonprofit MMIWUSA. To learn more about Duana and all the critical work being done by her and her team, head over to MMIWUSA[dot]org. Check them out on Facebook at MMIWUSA, and on Twitter @USAMMIW. Reach out at contact[at]MMIWUSA[dot]org.
“This is something that was most definitely swept underneath the rug. It's not talked about in history class. And it is something that’s shameful upon this country. And it is most definitely genocide.”
Mary Kathryn Nagle is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, an acclaimed playwright, lawyer, and outside counsel and policy consultant to the nonprofit National Indigenous Women's Resource Center. She specializes in tribal sovereignty and Indigenous people’s rights and safety, and represents a number of Missing Indigenous Peoples’ families who’ve lost loved ones. Follow her on Twitter @MKNAGLE, and check out her amazing group, at NIWRC[dot]org, on Facebook at NIWRC, and on Twitter @NIWRC. Contact her directly at Mary[dot]Kathryn[dot]Nagle[at]gmail[dot]com.
“It was a story of a white woman who went missing. And I think that's why the FBI cared to immediately assist, but it's very sad that they'll do that for Gabby Petito, but they won't do that for Lindsay Whiteman, or Kaysera Stops at Pretty Places, or Allison Highwolf, or Mary Jane Hill, or Olivia Lone Bear, or Henny Scott or Hannah Harris. It is the White Woman Syndrome that you know, other advocates of color and Black women sort of came up with this phrase to talk about is the same thing happens when other women of color including Black women are murdered, there just isn't that interest in investigating the homicides, and it's tragic, and it's a miscarriage of justice.”
The Extraordinary Artist You Heard
Translating the sheer anguish and fury permeating this crisis into incendiary hip-hop verses is our co-artist in residence, South Carolina-by-way-of-New York City-based hip hop fusion music artist, DJ, songwriter, and educator, LiKWUiD. She’s one of an ever-growing arsenal of independent artists we feature and support through this podcast, and we really couldn’t do it without her, or the rest of them. So please visit her site and learn more about all her incredible, incredible work, at IAmLiKWUiD[dot]com, on Facebook at likwuidity, and Twitter @likwuid.
Here’s a sample of one of LiKWUid’s verses for your listening pleasure:
As we mentioned in the episode, there was just sooo much more we learned about this and other related issues while conducting research for this episode, as well as sooo many other extraordinary groups we came across. Here are several that could use your support, in addition to those already named in the above guest bios:
Learn more about the Urban Indian Health Institute, dedicated to among other initiatives, decolonizing data related to the MMIWG2S crisis, at UIHI[dot]org, and the Sovereign Bodies Institute, which created and maintains a centralized, constantly updated database of such cases, at Sovereign[hyphen]Bodies[dot]org.
The nonprofit Not Our Native Daughters educates and raises awareness about Missing, Exploited, Murdered & Indigenous Women & Children. Check them out on Facebook at NotOurNativeDaughters.
Learn more about Native lawyer and distinguished professor Sarah Deer, who Duana mentioned in the episode, at SarahDeer[dot]com.
Visit and support the nonprofit Native Women’s Wilderness, at NativeWomensWilderness[dot]org, on Facebook at NativeWomensWilderness, and Twitter @NativeWomens. You heard snippets from an incredibly impactful video they made about the stats and victims of violence against Native Peoples in the episode, and now you definitely need to watch it on their site, and support them.
Another incredible nonprofit is all-Native women-led IllumiNative, which we’ve featured on another insane show we did called ‘This Week In Social Justice.’ Long live TWISJ! Sorry, had to. Visit them at IllumiNative[dot]org, on Facebook at IllumiNativeOrg, and on Twitter @IllumiNative.
Check out Reconciliation Education, a provider of bilingual, online, anti-racism training and education courses to businesses, schools, and communities to promote a renewed relationship between Indigenous Peoples and Canadians, at ReconciliationEducation[dot]ca.
Visit the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women, at CSVANW[dot]org.
Listen to our friends at Unf*cking The Republic (UNFTR) podcast!
Visit USNewsBeat[dot]com for all previous episodes of News Beat podcast, extended guest and artist bios, bonus eps, merch, and much more—and help support our unique blend of hard-hitting independent journalism and indie hip-hop at USNewsBeat[dot]com/support!
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News Beat is a multi-award-winning podcast brought to you by Morey Creative Studios and Manny Faces Media.
Audio Editor/Sound Designer/Producer/Host: Manny Faces
Editor-In-Chief/Producer: Christopher Twarowski
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Episode Art: Jeff Main
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