The University of Michigan’s Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs sponsored an event on Thursday to discuss violence against Indigenous communities and its public portrayal as part of Native American Heritage Month. Historian and writer Heather Bruegl, who is a citizen of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, spoke at the event about the epidemic of missing and murdered indigeneous women.
Bruegl started discussing the recent case of Gabby Petito, a young woman who went missing and whose body was later found, that gained national attention. Bruegl acknowledged it was a tragic case, but emphasized the time between when Petito was reported missing and when her body was found was much shorter than for missing Indigeneous women.
“When Gabby went missing, it wasn’t just her family that was looking for her,” Bruegl said. “The whole nation was looking for her. ”
Bruegl referred to the term “missing white woman syndrome,” explaining it refers to the tendency of the media to only cover white, female victims at the exclusion of all others. Bruegl also said the lack of law enforcement investigating missing and murdered Indigeneous women is alarming.
“The way missing Indegineous women are reported in (the) media is drastically different than the way a white woman was reported,” Bruegl said. “Between 2005 and 2009, U.S. attorneys declined to prosecute 67% of Indian Country matters that involved sexual abuse and related matters. … No federal agency has accurate information on how many Indigeneous women are missing and or murdered.”
Bruegl spoke about efforts to reduce violence against women, like the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013, but said she thinks many of these changes don’t help Indigeneous women.
“The Act does not allow for tribes to arrest and prosecute non-native assailants for crimes of murder, kidnapping, sexual assault, rape, sex trafficking or child abuse,” Bruegl said. “It doesn’t apply to any of that.”
Bruegl said Native women are often left out of discussion even though they suffer higher rates of violence. She also explained Native women not only deal with physical violence, but also bureaucratic violence from the State.
Rackham student Heather Syrette, a citizen of the Oneida Nation of the Thames and the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa, said she attended the event because she wanted a platform to share the story of the murder of her relative. Syrette also emphasized the importance of everyone on campus learning about other communities.
“We are such a small percentage of a population of people,” Syrette said. “Yet we are dying at a faster and higher rate than any other race and culture in the United States. I think it’s so important that as a campus community we all come together and learn more about each other.”
Daily News Contributor Jingqi Zhu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.