Blog by Associate Colette Parker

Thirty-five red dresses give voice to thousands of our Indigenous sisters – women and girls – who have been murdered or who have gone missing.

The collection of dresses, called the REDress Project, is currently on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in our nation’s capital. Jaime Black, the artist who created the project, describes it as an expression of her grief for thousands of murdered and missing Native victims.

A recent report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights states that Native American women are 10 times more likely to be murdered and four times more likely to be sexually assaulted than the national average.

And a study released last year by the Urban Indian Health Institute, a division of the Seattle Indian Health Board, showed that while the U.S. Department of Justice’s missing persons’ database officially recorded only 116 missing American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls, there were actually 5,712 reported missing.

Well, that’s a discrepancy, if I ever saw one. But it is no surprise to me. And it is no surprise to me that my Indigenous sisters haven’t gotten the attention they deserve.

(I don’t even want to talk about the research that shows the racial disparity in dedicating resources and conversation to missing women of color, revealing the unacceptable fact that white female bodies are viewed as more valuable than the bodies of women of color by the mainstream media in America – and dare I say, law enforcement).

It is shameful that a group of women who have been the target of violence since the colonization of America are treated with indifference and that our government doesn’t seem to be able to coordinate law enforcement agencies to account for the numbers of missing and murdered Indigenous women (let alone solve their cases).

Unfortunately, the REDress Project’s month-long installation at the Smithsonian ends on March 31, as it is displayed to commemorate Women’s History Month.  If you can’t get to Washington D.C. by then, you can continue to raise your awareness about the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls movement. And you can break the silence around the issue by raising your voice.

Posted in Associate Blog, News


  1. NPR’s Morning Edition features a recording from Story Corps every Friday. This (March 29) week’s was a Native woman talking about her mother who had been missing for over ten years. Thank you for your writing.

  2. The missing and murdered brings to mind a novel I read by Albert Camus called “The Plague”. It told of a walled city in Algeria that the plague was hitting during the middle ages. Those outside the walled city knew virtually nothing of the crisis going on inside the walls. Those outside the walls were insulated from the epidemic.
    The news media rarely speaks of homicides taking place on Indian reservations. The news media reports highly visible shocking events in the middle of a bell shaped curve but routine crime not that any crime is routine. Reservation homicides tend to be at the farthest and smallest part of the curve. The FBI investigates the 7 serious crimes and find themselves under manned and culturally marginalized once they’re on the reservation. There is a general distrust of any outside law enforcement along with a “no snitch” culture often found in impoverished jurisdictions. When one is on the reservation it feels as if they’re no longer in present day America. They find a place with radically different social norms, mores, and culture. Radically different daily events put the most seasoned off balance. People tend to view most violence on the reservation as an inevitable product of reservation life or something that goes with the territory. Native on native crime can be thought of in the same vein as black on black crime. Who is killing these native women? The answer is other Natives. Some of these homicides are committed by non natives especially when they take place off the reservation. These murders are committed in impoverished areas of cities. A lot of cities have a containment policy. Areas that host free clinics, welfare dump lodging houses, homeless shelters, and plasma centers. One finds check cashing businesses, Jesus saves storefront centers, the free eats and the greyhound station there as well. Marginalized people some homeless congregate there. Murders assaults and other crimes happen here and seldom do stretched thin budgets can do a disservice to investigators. Tax revenue can be low in precincts as these containment zones as well as the reservations. There is a need for super dedicated investigators who need a lot of luck on their side to get a dead bang case on an offender. I saw recently as many as 60% of all murders go unsolved in some places. I imagine it is these that go unsolved.
    There are some strong voices involved now about these missing and murdered native women.
    This also reminds me of 1979-1981 Atlanta when missing and murdered poor black children went missing and were found murdered. Celebrities, psychics, and money awards sprang up. The investigation took an ominous ring when it was thought the KKK might have been involved. To prevent racial violence and in a “rush for justice” a black man was arrested and charged, almost by proxy, for at least 10 murders which he wasn’t charged with and the murder of 2 technically unrelated killings. Wayne B Williams was convicted of the murder of 2 adults and the case of the murdered children was closed.
    History repeats itself we all know. Do these families need a sacrificial lamb to smooth over a social ill? Can these homicides ever be solved? Will the reservation be deemed safe after an arrest and shaky conviction heal this festering wound?

  3. In 1979-1981 Atlanta was in the midst of an epidemic of missing and murdered black male children. This caught the nations attention back then as well as the native women movement of today. Wayne B. Williams a 23 year old black man was arrested and convicted of 2 counts of murder. His conviction was for the murder of 2 adult males yet the state of Georgia held that the case was closed on the dozens of missing and murdered children. The killings did not stop in the years following Williams conviction.
    After 37 years most families concerned feel no justice was done. Authorities feel he is not guilty of most of the killings.
    Williams attorneys appealed his conviction but Georgia statutes bar any new legal strategy. His appearance before the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed the district court conviction.
    In the case of the missing and murdered native women with its national attention we are bound to have convictions such as Williams’. The case will probably be as flimsy as the Georgia case.
    In the native women’s case there is more to the issue. A concurrent problem in Indian country is the jurisdictional issue of prosecution of non natives on a reservation. A bill failed in the montana legislature recently which would have addressed the native women’s murders. The voice behind the bill is still strong even after the bills failure. The issue could be included in other legislative actions. Law enforcement change is felt necessary and undoing all the red tape that makes investigations and charges of any suspects a success. Tribal sovreignity will undoubtedly be eroded to try to fix the glaring issue of personal safety in Indian country. The reservation system blocks any state and local resources with the layers of red tape.
    It has been identified by way of seismic testing and exploratory drilling that about 20% of the nations oil lies beneath the Indian reservations. It is my understanding that these reservation lands were sold back to the government by way of the Cobell Land Buyback Program. The Indians no longer own the land underneath them.
    This issue of missing and murdered native women can well lead to the nullification of congressional acts that established the Indian reservations. The reservation system, a 19th century creation stands in the way of oil drilling. It has been identified as a major problem in enforcing any laws. The bureau of Indian affairs being an administrative organ is not set up to serve the reservations pressing law enforcement needs. The Indians who no longer own their lands describe the system as broken and faulty. Indeed a 19th century construct is no way to meet the needs of 21st century America. Expect to see the abolition of the Indian reservation system. I doubt the solution to native women’s crisis will be met by such action but this will trigger some new policy toward the indian question.
    Studies from the 1970s onward find that white people are most apt to kill other Whites. Studies have revealed that blacks tend to kill other blacks, Latinos and Asians likewise. There are interracial killings of natives in off reservation towns and small cities. The areas where these murders take place are the containment areas which the lower class frequent. There is an elevated risk of being killed on such parts of any city. It takes a loud voice such as we are hearing to change policy. I believe we are seeing the fall of the Indian reservation system.

  4. Colette, you are truly an inspiration for all of us. Thanks for your words of wisdom and truthfulness as it relates to our indigenous sisters who are hardly ever recognized. Peace, Alicia

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