By Lyle Becenti, Research Assistant
WestCare Nevada had the privilege of attending the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) Reclaim your Power Resource Fair. The event included speakers from the Moapa Band of Paiutes, Oceti Sakowin Oyate or Sioux Nation, and Native Lives Matter. This resource fair served as a platform for various nonprofit agencies. Specifically, we were invited by the Las Vegas Indian Center to establish a connection with the Indigenous people and understand the importance of MMIW.
Reports from the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) confirmed that Indigenous women experience higher rates of murder, rape, and violent crimes. For instance, four out of five Indigenous women have experienced violence in their lifetime with more than 50% experiencing sexual violence. In 2016, there were 5,712 reports of missing Indigenous women and girls in the US Department of Justice’s federal missing persons database and only 116 cases were logged in the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs).
Given this snapshot of information, we immersed ourselves in the activities and listened intently to the guest speakers. We participated in a round dance lead by colorful pow wow dancers. The round dance not only fostered community strength, but the songs and rhythm were meant to heal the people. The speakers were strong Indigenous women who told personal stories and the different types of injustices they experienced being a woman. WestCare CADC Assessment Counselor, Andrea Lopez (Navajo, Táchii’nii Clan), provided the following statements about MMIW: “Such tragedies have profound effect on the Indigenous populations and the rest of the world. Hopefully, WestCare’s engagement with the local Native American communities and its efforts to grow an Indigenous presence among the organization can help mend this divide, increase available services to Indigenous people, and add volume to the MMIW movement.” So, as a fellow WestCare employee, member of the Navajo Nation, and older sibling of three sisters, attending this event was necessary.
This event presented the challenges the Indigenous community (especially Indigenous women) experience and how MMIW is a catalyst to the unequal burden among the community. Alongside the MMIW movement, Indigenous people also experienced substantial substance use issues. According to SAMHSA, in 2021, American Indian or Alaska Native (36.1%) were more likely to have used illicit drugs in the past year compared to non-American Indian or Alaska Natives. With WestCare’s mission to Uplift the Human Spirit through behavioral health and human services, we are grateful to be included in the Reclaim your Power Resource Fair. WestCare Nevada is a proud ally to the Indigenous community and hope to be invited to next year’s event.