November 23, 2021

We Must End the Epidemic of Violence Against Indigenous Women

A flyer with details on Rena Mendenhall, a missing teen from Roseburg, Oregon. missingkids.org

As Thanksgiving approaches, many Oregonians are looking forward to gathering in celebration with their loved ones. But for many Indigenous people, the holiday is a painful reminder of the slaughter and oppression of their ancestors and the lasting legacy of colonialism and white supremacy in the United States. In particular, my heart and thoughts are with the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People (MMIWP) and their families in Oregon and beyond.

With the recent disappearances of Rena Mendenhall, Kennedie Hernandez and Lyssabelle Balinger, it’s clear we need to do more to act on this long standing epidemic and acknowledge the colonial roots that perpetuate it. While Oregon is one of only nine states that has brought legislative attention to this issue, progress has been slow and the work remains underfunded.

In 2019, Rep. Tawna Sanchez (Shoshone-Bannock/Ute/Carrizo) wrote and was instrumental in passing House Bill 2625 which called for a study to identify the scope of the MMIWP crisis in Oregon. The bill passed unanimously and the Oregon State Police (OSP) committed to leading a task force focused on the issue, albeit with no additional funding. That same year, the U.S. Department of Justice launched the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Initiative and Cedar Wilke Gillette (Mandan/Hidatsa/Arikara; Turtle Mountain Chippewa descendant) was appointed Oregon’s first Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons (MMIP) Coordinator. This was followed by a statewide listening tour and the release of OSP’s Report on Missing and Murdered Native American Women, detailing some of the barriers to reporting and investigating missing Native American women and people, and providing recommendations for continuing action.

These are vitally important first steps for Oregon, but they’re just the beginning of the deeper work we must do to address MMIWP in our state. The pandemic limitations on gatherings shortened the Listening and Understanding Tour and a lack of additional funding limited the OSP report’s methodology. Oregon can and must do more.

In her report on the issue, Portland State University graduate Michaela Madrid (Lower Brule Sioux Tribe) made a number of recommendations which call for greater inclusion of Indigenous MMIWP survivors, family members, scholars and community leaders to address this epidemic. She calls for the hiring of Native American researchers and the addition of a Tribal relations director within the Oregon State Police department. Meyer believes implementing these recommendations would provide a more meaningful resource for decision-makers, funders and Oregon’s Inidigenous communities.

Here at Meyer, we are committed to advocating for not only greater awareness, but more crucially action, including additional funding and increased consultation and engagement of Oregon’s Indigenous communities most impacted by the MMIWP crisis. Our current efforts are focused on directly supporting individuals and families in need of immediate support during their time of crisis, including those involved in searches for missing relatives, after care for loved ones found and, unfortunately, funeral expenses when needed. Earlier this month, Meyer provided a grant to the Na’ah Illahee Fund (NIF), an Indigenous women-led organization dedicated to the ongoing regeneration of Indigenous communities. Following the recommendations of their community advisory council, NIF will distribute grants to those most impacted by the MMIWP crisis.

The MMIWP crisis is only one example of the destructive living legacies of racism, slavery and colonization. Public agencies and private funders must work together, following the lead of our tribal and urban Native communities to address historic and current harms. A flourishing and equitable future for all Oregonians is intrinsically tied to the well-being and prosperity of our state’s Indigenous communities.

The following are the names of MMIWP in Oregon. I hope you will keep them and their families in your hearts as you reconnect with yours this holiday season.

Lisa Pearl Briseno, Mavis Kirk-Greeley, Mavis Josephine McKay, Heather Leann Cameron, Avery Chester Charles, Jerome Clements Charles, Shaydin Jones-Hoisington, Leona Sharon Kinsey, Roger Jacob LeMieux, Sennia Pacheco, Zachary Silatqutaq Bashir Porter, Tryone Beau Robinson, Tina Vel Spino, Gunner Bailey, Jonathan Thomas Gilbert, Gregory Scott Peters, Leslie Shippentower, Selena Shippentower, Sophia Rosenda Strong, Lynette Watchman, Melissa Wilson, Rena Mendenhall, Kennedie Hernandez, Lyssabelle Ballinger and those still unknown and unnamed.