of crime against Indigenous women
Washington, D.C.–Thirty empty red dresses hang near the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., within view of the National Mall and U.S. Capitol. For the first time in the United States, the museum is displaying The REDress Project, an installation conceived by Canadian artist Jaime Black (Métis) to bring awareness, remembrance, and healing to the crisis of missing or murdered Indigenous women and girls. As part of the installation, the dresses are hung in various locations in North America to draw attention to the plight of these Native Women. According to a briefing prepared by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in December, Native American women are ten times more likely to be sexually assaulted than the national average. Often, the National Indigenous Women Resource Center reports, these disappearances or murders are connected to crimes of domestic violence, sexual assault, and sex trafficking. Black created The REDdress Project to create dialogue around the gendered and racialized nature of violent crimes against Native and Indigenous women. “People feel haunted by the dresses,” Black has said of the installation. “They feel moved by their presence. The installation becomes a space to educate those who may not know what’s going on, and it opens up a space for people who are experiencing violence to share their own stories. Hopefully, a family that’s missing a loved one can feel supported , and maybe have a place to mourn. It gives a material presence to something that otherwise is absent except for in their own hearts.” According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, murder is the third-leading cause of death among American Indian and Alaska Native women. In 2016, 5,712 Native women and girls were reported missing to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center. Only 116 of these reports were entered in the Department of Justice’s federal missing persons database, a national clearinghouse for law enforcement officers. There is no way to determine the total number of Native women and girls currently missing. Beyond poor awareness and information, a third issue complicates policing and prosecuting crimes against Native Americans in Indian Country: According to the Supreme Court ruling in Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe (1978), tribal courts do not hold criminal jurisdiction over non-Natives on tribal lands unless that jurisdiction has been specifically authorized by Congress. Violent felonies committed on tribal lands are prosecuted by the federal government through the FBI. The relatively small number of FBI agents assigned to rural parts of the country creates a severe barrier to justice on reservations.