An exhibit showcasing the missing and murdered victims of indigenous communities. Shaun Lucas / The Snapper
Features Editor | CJ Kar
“No More Stolen Sisters,” an exhibit detailing crimes against indigenous communities in the United States. Last week at the Ware Center, in Downtown Lancaster, the exhibit featured oversized bright rosy-red shirts which piqued my interest.
“What Are All Those Red Dresses For?” the sign stole my attention; looking down, all I could see were faces. Seemingly innocent faces, some of them with smiles. Below their heads though, the word “missing and murdered” followed with each and every face. They all looked like ordinary people that had their futures taken away too soon; the photos felt a bit gentle, but in a sad way.
Growing up, I had always known my family had Native American heritage, the faces reminded me of a personal story from my own family, but it didn’t dawn on me until a moment later. Roaming through the exhibit, it subtly slipped. I remember now; my mother mentioning one of our own was left with a similar fate as the others listed in this exhibit. Her name was Irene.
She was my mother’s grandmother, whom she had never really gotten close to. One evening when the cool breeze was drifting in through my mother’s home, she told me a story about her grandmother going out that night and never returning; it was Irene who had gone missing. She was half Indigenous, being a part of the Black Foot tribe. Originally, the Black Foot tribe was located on the Saskatchewan River in the Valley of Saskatchewan, Canada.
All the stories seem to end up in the same situation, an Indigenous person goes missing, and back during that time, little was done for them – bigotry and racism ran rampant – her life was never given justice, just like the others.
According to the statistics from MMIP (Missing and Murdered Indigenous People), in 2016 over 5,173 indigenous woman were reported missing to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center, but only 116 of these reports were actually entered into the Department of Justice’s missing person database. I can only imagine how it was in the past, the statistics of only a few years ago were startling to see.
Talking to the woman at the counter, she mentioned the purpose of the exhibit telling me stories about people she knew whose lives were affected by the senseless murders of indigenous woman, pointing to the paper that 280 cases out of the 5,173 were murders. Even more shockingly, the atrocities committed against indigenous women seem to be mostly committed by non-natives, with the statistics from MMIP stating that on some reservations 96% of sexual violence being carried out on native woman are responsible by non-natives, most likely not being related to that tribe in any shape or form.
The MMIP also showcased traditional dancing from native culture, and displayed a Native American run shop containing items actually sold from tribe members. I got a glimpse at both of these aspects of the exhibit, and some of it was reminiscent of the items that Irene used to own.
Going back though, I think the most important aspect of the exhibit were the red dresses, symbolizing more than just indigenous names: they represent the women, men, children, and two-spirit individuals who have gone missing, who didn’t escape the killings and senseless violence done against them. Indigenous people all over the United States are passing without justice being served to their names. The narrative is now only starting to change, but not soon enough.
I could not help but feel empathy: trying to put myself in their shoes, imagine what it would feel like to have you or your close family member go missing with little to no help from the police, from the media. Such tragedies like this need to be exposed to the world, not just through our phones, but through awareness, through social change: I think that’s the message that organizations like Families of MMIP are trying to send out to us all.
Picking up some of the fliers and papers on information, I noticed they had a Venmo. it was @MMIWMEMORIALGROVE(3609), but my phone was dead, so I plunged out of the wallet and gave them what cash I had. It was only five dollars, which wasn’t much. Though, I guess helping is better than not helping, I thought to myself. Seeing the “No More Stolen Sisters” exhibit gave me a new perspective on Indigenous people across America.
I think things will eventually change, people need to experience seeing the faces of children lost forever. They need to see the t-shirts that signify not just the blood of those people who are missing, but the pain in the hearts of the families who may never see their loved ones again.
Overall, the No More Stolen Sisters memorial was in a way heartbreaking, but something I think needs to be shown–awareness is everything, and Native Americans truly haven’t been given the coverage and action that they truly deserve.