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Tri-Lateral Working Group on Violence Against Indigenous Women and Girls – Washington, DC. July 14, 2022.

Boozhoo Indinawe-maaganag! Nicole Matthews Zhaaginaashimong. Manidoo- Bineshiikwe indigo. Migizi indoodem. Gaa-waabaabiganiikaag indoonjibaa.

Greetings my relatives! My English name is Nicole Matthews, and my Indian name is Spirit Bird Woman. I am Eagle clan, and I am from the White Earth Band of Ojibwe.

I am the Executive Director of the Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition, and also served as the Vice Chair of Minnesota’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s Task Force.

I was one of five interviewers for our research on prostitution and trafficking of American Indian and Alaska Native women in Minnesota, where we interviewed 105 American Indian and Alaska Native women about their experiences being used in prostitution and trafficking.  The title of our report is: Garden of Truth: The Prostitution and Trafficking of Native Women in Minnesota.

One of the things we heard from many of the women we interviewed was that they knew of someone who had been trafficked and they had never seen nor heard from them again. We heard story after story of the violence and invisibility they encountered on a daily basis. One woman said that a sex buyer told her… ‘I thought we killed all of you.’  This is the same violence and invisibility that many of us encounter on a daily basis. We are indigenous to this land, and we deserve better.

Since our study, we have seen a valuable increase in resources for Native victims of trafficking. We have seen a growing number of programs across the country that are addressing this violence in our communities, but we know there is much more to do.

We must continue to increase the visibility of our people, and address the racism that continues to harm our communities. We need to provide economic resources, to address the ongoing and widespread poverty and homelessness; and we must continue to fund and build resources for both healing and prevention. Real prevention happens when we address the social norms and conditions that allow for gender based violence to exist and continue to grow.

We are currently working on research regarding sex trafficking of our LGBTQ/Two spirit Native people. We know that they are targeted for violence, and are harmed in disproportionate numbers. We hope to learn so much more from our two spirit relatives during our research, about their needs to this violence. There should be increased resources funding and resources to address gender based violence against our two spirit relatives.

Most recently, the US Supreme Court made a devastating decision regarding reproductive justice. For victims of gender based violence, and for all women…. Body autonomy is critical. A woman who becomes pregnant through violence, should not be forced to carry that pregnancy. Our indigenous sovereignty extends beyond the halls of our tribal government, to the bodies of our people and our life givers. This right must be protected at all costs. We are grateful to the Biden/Harris administration, for all they are doing and have done to address this, and there is more work to be done. We know that there will likely be other harmful decisions made by the Supreme court, and we are asking that our President looks into ways to expand the supreme court and work to protect the rights of the people.

I was also honored to serve as the Vice Chair of Minnesota’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s Task Force. Through the work of the Task Force, we learned some heartbreaking statistics. In Minnesota, Native women and girls represent just 1% of our state’s population… yet, we represent 8% of the murdered women and girls. In addition, from 2012 to 2020…. In any given month… there were anywhere from 27 to 54 Native women and girls missing. Each one of these numbers represent a person…. A mother who will never come home to hug her children…. A daughter who leaves a hole in her mothers heart…. A relative who we will never forget.

We were the first state to create a permanent, state funded, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives Office, to address this problem. This office will monitor and address this issue, and work with state, local and tribal officials. Through my work on the task force, we identified the following mandates to address the issue of MMIW:

1.    Examine systemic causes behind violence that Indigenous women and girls experience, including patterns and underlying factors that explain why disproportionately high levels of violence occur against Indigenous women and girls, including underlying historical, social, economic, institutional, and cultural factors which may contribute to the violence. This included addressing systemic and institutional racism, and addressing poverty and homelessness.
2.    Examine appropriate methods for tracking and collecting data on violence against Indigenous women and girls, including data on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. This includes ensuring state and federal technical assistance and support is provided so tribes have access to and can fully participate in all relevant data systems.
3.    Report on policies and institutions such as policing, child welfare, coroner practices, and other governmental practices that impact violence against Indigenous women and girls and the investigation and prosecution of crimes of gender violence against Indigenous people. This includes supporting tribes to exercise their sovereignty and increase their jurisdictional authority to investigate, prosecute, and sentence perpetrators of violence against Indigenous women and girls.
4.    Report on measures necessary to address and reduce violence against Indigenous women and girls. This includes preventing and reducing the harms of trafficking, sexual exploitation, and normalized violence for Indigenous women and girls who are involved in the child welfare system and/or the criminal justice system since they are at most risk of becoming MMIW.
5.    Examine measures to help victims families, and communities prevent and heal from violence that occurs against Indigenous women and girls. This includes ensuring that any initiatives, programs, and decisions related to the MMIW injustice are informed by Indigenous women and girls, especially those who have lived experiences with violence and exploitation.

I am honored to be invited here today, to provide my remarks, and to be amongst my Indigenous relatives from the North and South. I am so grateful to all that the Biden/Harris administration is doing and will do to address these problems, and to the government officials from Canada and Mexico, who are committed to do the same. Our Indigenous people have been here for centuries, and we will be here long after these government administrations. Our work here must lead to permanent policy changes that will continue beyond these administrations, and I look forward to working with you all to create justice and healing for our people.

Miigwetch Bizidawiyeg! Thank you all for listening!

Testimony of Nicole Matthews, MIWSAC Executive Director at the Tri-Lateral Working Group on Violence Against Indigenous Women and Girls in Washington, DC. July 14, 2022.

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