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Native American mural celebration focuses on missing and murdered indigenous women

December 10, 2018

Native American mural celebration focuses on missing and murdered indigenous women

“We are still here,” reads the Native American mural at SF State in bold red paint.

The mural, debuted in 2009, celebrated the indigenous culture embraced by many at SF State through programs like ethnic studies, and specifically within the American Indian Studies Department.

The annual mural celebration is a collaboration between the Student Kouncil of Intertribal Nations (SKINS) and Richard Oakes Multicultural Center. The celebration took place at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 6, at the Richard Oakes Multicultural Center.

Guests such as SF State American Indian Studies faculty members Melissa Nelson and Joanne Barker, as well as a keynote speaker from California Consortium for Urban Indian Health, shared prayer, song and poetry with the audience. Members of SKINS performed a dance surrounding an alter symbolic of Aztec traditions.

Murdered and missing indigenous women were a main topic of conversation during the celebration. Women like Khadijah Britton, a 23-year-old resident of Covelo, California, who has been missing since February when she was abducted at gunpoint by her boyfriend, were discussed.

Data and reports on the statistical evidence of disproportionate murders, assaults and missing cases of indigenous women are lacking. According to the Seattle Indian Health Board’s Urban Indian Health Institute, in a study of 506 murdered and missing indigenous women in 71 cities, 95 percent have not been covered in mainstream media.

Many indigenous women’s stories are similar to Britton’s. Savanna Grewind, a 22-year-old Dakota Sioux resident from North Dakota, was eight months pregnant when she was discovered dead in a lake. Grewind’s story sparked worldwide discussion and the establishment of Savanna’s Act, an act to provide more information and data on the statistics of missing and murdered indigenous women, as well as training for tribal police to better respond to such cases. Savanna’s Act passed in the Senate on Wednesday.

Guests and audience members agreed that the need for continued discussion and recognition of these disproportionately targeted indigenous women is necessary to solving their cases.

Some SF State audience members acknowledged that many students are unaware of this issue.

“This [event] brings attention and educates people from all walks of life with issues that are very prominent, relevant and timely, for example, the missing indigenous women,” said audience member and SF State student Yang Wencie Hoang. “For someone that isn’t taking American Indian Studies courses, it may be difficult to find out about issues like this are happening.”

SF State student Carlos Osoria agreed that SKINS provided a safe space to speak about the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women among other injustices, like incarceration of indigenous people.

“The key feature this event holds to its core is the shedding of light onto a lot of the issues that are actually part of our society, along with historic issues,” Osoria said.

SKINS member Rogelio Martinez agrees, “We want to work on exposing exploitation, destruction, and defense of our native lands.”

Mary Jean Robertson, an original member of SKINS and indigenous woman who helped coin the name, graduated from SF State in 1972, after the establishment of Ethnic Studies at SF State.

Robertson acknowledged the work indigenous people put into having their area of study recognized.

“SF State is a very special place because it was one of the first Ethnic Studies and one of the first American Indian Studies,” Robertson said. “Because of Ethnic Studies, we have been able to make sure SFUSD has ethnic studies in high schools,” Robertson said.

Robertson hopes that the Native American mural celebration helps shed light on the need for American Indian Studies at SF State, the threatened indigenous women, and the Ohlone land San Franciscans are living on.

“People need to think about the land they’re living on wherever they are living, […] and acknowledge the gifts given to us from this land” said Robertson.

Osoria adds that the Native American Mural Celebration represented many native people from different lands like El Salvador, Mexico, and California.

“With every presenter you got a different piece of what a Native American is, rather than the atypical type that a lot of Western media and culture depicts,” Osoria said.

Martinez agreed that all indigenous people gathered at the celebration shared commonalities.

“Indigenous folks are still here on a mission to uncover and discover our roots,” Martinez said, Martinez acknowledges that part of uncovering this history is exposing it.

Through the discussion of unsolved cases of missing and murdered indigenous women, SKINS aided to this exposure of injustice in both the lack of data and the disproportionate violence toward indigenous women.

Though indigenous histories share a commonality of sacrifice, SF State bonded together to pray and honor the women and ancestors in their lives.

Alexis is a reporter and former photojournalist.