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Native American Student Association Red Dress Search brings awareness to MMIW crisis

Native American Student Association Red Dress Search brings awareness to MMIW crisis

Native American Student Association Red Dress Search brings awareness to MMIW crisis
November 18
11:00 2021

Red dresses are spread across campus for the Native American Student Association’s latest project: the Red Dress Search. 

As one of its programs for Native American Heritage Month, NASA began the Red Dress Search to bring awareness to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women human rights crisis.

Murder rates for Indigenous women are up to 10 times the national average, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Justice. MMIW data is incomplete, making murder rates for Indigenous people harder to track.

Oftentimes, reports for missing Native Americans are lost between tribal and local governments. Reports have also been mishandled by local governments, with the failure to file missing person reports, reports having incomplete or missing information or reports being filed incorrectly.

In the U.S., MMIW has expanded to MMIWG2S to include girls and two-spirits, someone who identifies with both masculine and feminine spirits. 

“I want people to become more aware of [MMIW] because it’s a bigger issue than people know,” said Olivia Snedi, a psychology freshman from the Lakota Oglala tribe and Tsalagi tribe. “It’s an epidemic and it’s not talked about more.” 

NASA is a group of intertribal members and allies aiming to build a more inclusive space for Indigenous students on campus, while spreading awareness and education of Native issues. 

NASA’s Red Dress Search is inspired by First Nations artist Jaime Black’s REDress Project, which focuses on the issue of missing or murdered Aboriginal women across Canada. Black’s project started in 2010 and has been installed in public places throughout Canada and the U.S. 

Emilia Gaston, NASA treasurer and sociology doctoral student, said the Red Dress Search provides a visual talking point for MMIWG2S and is an interesting way to bring awareness.

“Folks are getting a chance to go around and really learn about the issue in a way that’s not super intimidating,” Gaston said.   

MMIW is not the only issue within the Native American community. Stereotypes, mascots, the hypersexualization of Indigenous women and the history of residential schools contribute to the MMIW crisis, Gaston said. 

Earlier this summer, former residential schools made international news when 751 unmarked graves were found at a former residential school in Saskatchewan, Canada just weeks after 215 graves were found at a school in British Columbia.

Residential schools, known then as American Indian boarding schools, were established under the Civilization Act of 1819, to “civilize” or assimilate native children into American culture. In Canada, the “Indian residential school system” was funded by the Department of Indian Affairs and run by Christian churches, according to the Indigenous Foundations website. In these schools, Indigenous children were often not allowed contact with their families and tribes, forced to cut their hair and forbidden to speak their native languages.

Gaston said the Red Dress Search is intended to bring awareness to MMIW, but many Native issues intersect with each other.

“You can’t talk about the fact that we had boarding schools or residential schools where children were forcibly removed from their families and say, ‘How did we get to the MMIW crisis?’” Gaston said. 

Deante Moore, a member of the Gila River Indian Community and from the Akimel O’odham, said the Red Dress Search is a way to create a dialogue about what is happening in the MMIW crisis. Serving as the vice president of NASA, he said it is important for people to know MMIW is happening and has been since colonial times. 

“The ones who are taken or murdered aren’t able to speak for themselves,” Moore said. “It’s important for us who have the privilege to be safe and are here to speak for them and advocate for them.” 

The Red Dress Search creates visibility for the Native community, and getting the word out about MMIWG2S is one of NASA’s main goals, Moore said.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re Native or not — this is a human issue,” Snedi said.

To learn how to support the Indigenous community during the MMIWG2S crisis, those interested visit MMIW TX Rematriate’s Facebook page. 

NASA’s Red Dress Search will continue through Nov. 30 for Native American Heritage Month. For more information about NASA’s Red Dress Search and other programs for Native American Heritage Month, visit @untnasa on Instagram or untnasa.com

Featured Image: A red dress put up by the Native American Student Association hangs in the CVAD Art Gallery on Nov. 14 2021. Photo by Julianna Rangel

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Hannah Johnson

Hannah Johnson

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