Cherokee One Feather: Native Women victims to be remembered, honored

Hanna Harris, a member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe of Montana, went missing on July 3, 2013.  Her badly decomposed body was found five days later near the rodeo grounds on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Lame Deer, Mont.

Due to the decomposition of her body, it was impossible to determine an exact cause of death, but Eugenia Ann Rowland, of Pine Ridge, SD, admitted to beating her and pleaded guilty to second degree murder.  She was sentenced to 22 years in prison in February 2015, and her husband, Garrett Sidney Wadda, who Rowland said was also involved in the beating, pleaded guilty to accessory after the fact.

Almost 85 percent of American Indian women have experienced some sort of violence in their lifetime according to a report released last month by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ).  Now, a resolution has been introduced in Congress to designate May 5, 2017 as National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls.

The resolution, was introduced on Tuesday, June 28 by Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), and Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.).  The legislators related they drafted the resolution in the memory of Harris.

Sen. Tester, who serves as vice chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, said in a statement, “It is critical that we shed more light on the hardships that Native women and their families often face.  But, words must be followed up with actions, and I am committed to working with the Montana Congressional delegation and Montana tribes to increase the safety of Native women and ensure they have every opportunity to thrive.”

Former EBCI Tribal Council Chairperson Terri Henry serves as co-chair of NCAI’s Task Force on Violence Against Women and commented, “The NIJ’s Report is alarming in its information as a snapshot of the life experiences of American Indian and Alaska Natives.  As advocates for Native women, this information is somewhat a vindication of our advocacy of safety for Native women.  Some folk didn’t believe us.  Unfortunately, what this report shows is that the perpetration of violence is worse than we thought.”

She added, “Native women have been going missing and/or found murdered for a long time now.  It is unfortunate that we are only now recognizing this reality in Native women’s lives, and it heightens my awareness and concern for my personal safety and the personal safety of other Native women, especially our young Native women.  The creation of a National Day of Awareness is desperately needed.  Hats off to Senator Danes of Montana for bringing this forward.”

The NIJ report states that 56.1 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced sexual violence in their lifetime with 14.4 percent experiencing it in the past year.  Overall, 39.8 percent have experienced some form of violence in the past year.  Most of this violence was by non-Indians according to the report which states, “Among American Indian and Alaska Native victims, 96 percent of women and 89 percent of men have experienced sexual violence by an interracial perpetrator.”