The crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, two-spirit and trans people affects all of Indian Country. Powerful change could start in Lawrence because of its strong and active intertribal community.
Activists and scholars united Thursday at the Lawrence Public Library for a panel to raise awareness about the MMIWG2ST movement.
The event, hosted by the Willow Domestic Violence Center, emphasized that Native women are murdered at more than 10 times the national average rate. In light of this crisis, the panelists offered their perspectives into why it’s happening and what the Lawrence community can do about it.
Rep. Christina Haswood, Diné, shared her policy expertise as a state legislator. Sierra Two Bulls, Oglala Lakota, represented the Indigenous Community Center and local MMIWG2ST chapter. Sarah Deer, a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma, offered special insights at the intersection of federal Indian law and victims’ rights. And D’Arlyn Bell, of the Cherokee Nation, moderated the panel as a community activist.
Lawrence is one of four national chapters that adds “G2ST” to the traditional MMIW name, according to Two Bulls. This distinction is important because it intentionally includes those who have been historically excluded.
“Two-spirit and trans people are often left out of the conversation, and we wanted to uplift those voices,” Two Bulls said. “These groups are the marginalized of the marginalized, and they see even higher rates of violence.”
The factors driving high rates of gender-based violence in Indian Country
Deer, a distinguished professor at the University of Kansas and Chief Justice for the Prairie Island Indian Community Court of Appeals, wrote “The Beginning and End of Rape: Confronting Sexual Violence in Native America.” It’s the culmination of more than 25 years of working with survivors and criminal justice personnel.
She said there is a “patchwork of bizarre jurisdictional rules” that make it difficult to uphold criminal justice for Indian Country.
Deer said the majority of victims in the United States are assaulted by perpetrators of their own race, but nine out of 10 assaults against Native women are committed by non-Native men.
However, tribal nations could not prosecute non-Natives until 2013, when the Violence Against Women Act was reauthorized. Domestic abusers could escape prosecution as easily as stepping foot off reservation land.
VAWA did not include sex traffickers or other predators until it was expanded in 2022.
The federal government shares jurisdiction with the tribes to enforce criminal law. But even when a tribal nation can’t prosecute because of restrictions the federal government has placed on them, that doesn’t mean the feds will, either.
“On many reservations across the country, if you are a victim of sexual assault or domestic violence, the FBI shows up rather than the police,” Deer said. “The FBI is not in the business of prosecuting interpersonal crime. So they have, historically, simply ignored crimes on reservations for decades.”
A call to action for allies
Although this urgent issue affects all of Indian Country, a shift can start here at home because of Lawrence’s strong intertribal community.
Haswood sponsored House Bill 2008 in 2021. The bill, a collaboration with former Rep. Ponka-We Victors-Cozad, provided for the state attorney general to coordinate training for law enforcement agencies on missing and murdered Indigenous people. The law passed unanimously in both the House and Senate.
“It was such a powerful moment because it showed that we can work together across political ideologies, especially during COVID-19, and I was happy to educate my colleagues about it,” Haswood said.
Another solution is to create better channels for data collection. Two Bulls noted a lack of data on violence rates against two-spirit and trans Native folks.
She also said there’s no publicly available data on how often local police — such as the Lawrence Police Department — actually complete the MMIWG2ST training created under HB 2008. As of publication time, a spokesperson for LPD was gathering information about how many officers had completed the training.
But this work doesn’t start and end with the law. It comes down to individual citizens, too. The Indigenous Community Center is always accepting volunteers and donations to help with its MMIWG2ST chapter. Another way that people can make an impact is simply getting educated.
“We need more allies, and awareness is such a key to that,” Bell said.
Deer recommended reading the book “Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask,” by Ojibwe author Anton Treuer. Two Bulls suggested attending more community events, which KU and Haskell Indian Nations University offer on a regular basis.
Haswood added that, in honor of Native American Heritage Month, people can check out other events happening across the nation, such as free webinars. They cover topics including violence against Native communities, but also more broad lessons on Native history.
“And don’t just learn our history, but learn our modern history,” Haswood said. “Being an enrolled member, an Indigenous person, means you’re a political entity in itself, and we didn’t choose this. We’re learning how to break down all these barriers that were broken promises and to create more just, decolonized systems.”
As these activists share their expertise, they’re bringing allyship, understanding, and more momentum to the MMIWG2ST movement. And it’s all with the hope to bring more stolen relatives home.
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Get help in Lawrence
Domestic violence situations: The Willow Domestic Violence Center
- Reach the Willow for help 24/7 at 785-843-3333.
- Find more resources on the Willow’s website at this link.
- National hotline: Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), text “START” to 88788, and/or visit thehotline.org to chat and learn more, 24/7.
File for an order of protection
In Kansas, victim-survivors of stalking and abuse can file for court orders of protection from abuse or stalking online. Visit kspop.org and follow the instructions on the website. The service is available for any county in Kansas. (Note: As of October 2023, The online portal is not working because of ongoing issues with the Kansas online court portal. You can still file for a protection order with traditional paper forms; check this link for more information.)
Learn the warning signs
Read about warning signs of domestic violence and emotional abuse and learn how you can help at this link.
Jordan Winter (she/her), a contributor to The Lawrence Times, is a 2019 KU grad with degrees in journalism and political science.
Molly Adams (she/her), photojournalist and news operations coordinator for The Lawrence Times, can be reached at molly (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Check out more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.