Traditionally, Native women held positions highly revered in their communities, often respected as leaders, warriors and always as the bringers of life. However, after colonial first contact, non-Native men frequently viewed indigenous women as disposable sexual commodities. Based on today’s disproportionately higher rate of violence toward Native women and a judicial reluctance to prosecute these crimes, it is a belief that appears to be ongoing.
Statistics in the U.S. indicate three in five Native women will be physically assaulted; on some reservations, Native women are murdered at more than ten times the national average; and U.S. attorneys declined to prosecute 67% of sexual abuse related cases. In Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RMCP) concluded 1,049 aboriginal women had been slain between 1980 and 2015, and another 175 were considered missing. Patty Hajdu, Canadian Minister for the Status of Women, reported that 4,000 would be a more realistic number based on a history of police under-reporting or failure to properly investigate cases.
This piece was deliberately inspired by the iconic shape of the Venus De Milo, a western symbol for classic female beauty. Juxtaposing this ideal, I’ve included “Squaw” in the title, a term of disparaging connotation regarding Native women - a term of disposable, sexual objectification. Many women around the world suffer the similar fate of being assaulted, raped and murdered, all as a result of men’s perceived ownership over a woman and her body. The discrepancy between the perceived value of Native women as compared to our non-Native sisters is further highlighted by my weaving of the above stats into the bodice. The form is an “everywoman” form but the numbers woven into her body reveal a tragic disparity; Native women experience violence more frequently and their cases are less often reported or prosecuted.
The interior is printed in red with the names and tribes of 306 murdered and missing women compiled by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, cases the RCMP dismissed as solved but family members have disputed as unsolved or not investigated. I’ve also included first hand accounts from family members detailing the heartache they’ve endured because it is imperative to remember the women behind the numbers. The piece is woven in a Cherokee single-weave technique using the traditional pattern called “Water,” appropriately chosen since the bodies of so many of our missing and murdered sisters are reclaimed after being dumped in the Red River.
Sources: National Congress of American Indians (2013); U.S. Department of Justice (1998); Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (1998); Native Women’s Association of Canada/ Canada Public Broadcaster CBC NEWS (Feb 2016); The Guardian (Feb 2016); Walk 4 Justice/ Global News (Mar 2016); NPR National Public Radio (Aug 2016)
Photo credit: Scott Miller Photography