July 16, 2021

What will it take to stop violence against Native women?

While the discovery of mass graves at former residential schools in Canada has drawn attention to the ongoing violence toward Indigenous communities in North America, these crimes—and many others—have already been well documented. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland has called violence against Indigenous people in general a “crisis,” and the stats show how vulnerable women in particular are: 80 percent of Indigenous women in the United States have experienced some form of violence.

What will it take to turn this moment of awareness into action? To find out, this week on UNDISTRACTED Brittany Packnett Cunningham sat down with award-winning Cree journalist Connie Walker to talk about the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Host of the Gimlet Media podcast “Stolen: The Search for Jermain,” Walker is from the Okanese First Nation in Saskatchewan and has spent decades telling the stories of Native communities. As an investigative reporter at Canada’s CBC News, she hosted the podcasts “Finding Cleo” and “Who Killed Alberta Williams?”

Packnett Cunningham and Walker broke down the long history of violence toward Indigenous communities, and what the growing awareness of the issue could mean. Highlights of their conversation:

Walker on how this current news cycle feels different: “We’ve been trying to kind of raise this alarm for so long…Now when people actually finally seem to be understanding the magnitude of what Indigenous people have experienced and they’re feeling the weight of it in the way that we have felt it for our entire lives, it kind of takes my breath away and makes me feel the weight of it all over again.”

Walker on why she tells the stories of Native women: “There’s this long history of people coming into our communities and taking our stories and portraying us in ways that reinforce terrible stereotypes about who we are or the lives we lead. And so I really want to make space for people to understand and empathize with the human beings at the heart of these stories.”

Walker on why Indigenous women are so often the target of violent crime and why so many cases involving them go unsolved: “We did a database at CBC where we tried to document as many unsolved cases as we could of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada…So many of them had been in the child welfare system at some point in their lives. So many of them had struggled with some kind of form of addiction. So many of them had experienced childhood sexual abuse. So many of them had family members who are residential school survivors. If you spend any time looking at this crisis, it does not take much investigation to unearth the bigger themes that are at play.”

And what Walker wants people to know: “I am so lucky to be an Indigenous woman. And I come from an incredible family and community that is rich and full of strength and laughter and beauty and culture…Along with raising awareness of the violence that we experience, we also need to make space to showcase the diversity in our communities.”

Listen on Apple Podcasts,  SpotifyStitcher or wherever you get your podcasts.


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