Illustration Meant to Prompt Dialogue About Missing, Murdered Indigenous Women

Via Facebook

The search for Samantha Paul began September 9, 2013.

Nine months later, on June 1, 2014, men traveling in an ATV discovered a skull in a remote area roughly 12 miles from her home of Kamloops, British Columbia. DNA confirmed the skull was that of Paul. Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) has not ruled out foul play, but the case remains unsolved.

Paul is one of more than a thousand First Nation women in Canada who have either been murdered or gone missing since 1980, according to RCMP statistics. In the U.S., the Department of Justice reported Native American women are 2.5 times more likely to be the victim of sexual assault than women of any other racial minority.

Earlier this year, Lauren Chief Elk, Nakoda and a founding member of the Save W?y?bi Project – an advocacy group founded in 2011 to work toward stemming violence against indigenous women – launched a comprehensive map of unsolved missing, solved and unsolved murders of indigenous women in both Canada and the United States. Chief Elk said she and four others created the map “so people could visually see the violence.” W?y?bi is the Nakoda word for ‘women.’

“[The map is] updated probably once every couple of months,” she said. “It could honestly be its own full-time job.” Chief Elk added it takes a lot of time to go through stacks of reports, especially with a team of only five. But it’s imperative work, she said, because the issue of murdered and missing indigenous women is not salient in mainstream media in Canada or the U.S. “It’s very intentionally covered up,” she said. Chief Elk added that the murders and abductions are a matter of “ongoing genocide” and a consequence of settler colonialism.

Yet where mainstream fails, social media attempts to succeed. On October 7, Ryan Redcorn, a graphic designer and owner of Buffalo Nickel Creative, released an illustration to raise awareness about murdered and missing indigenous women. The picture is of a woman in traditional regalia with her mouth covered to symbolize the silence pervading the subject, Redcorn told ICTMN. He said he created the image so people could use it as their profile picture on their social media accounts to prompt a larger conversation on the subject. Hundreds of people have since supplanted their photo with Redcorn’s illustration – including men, which Redcorn finds both necessary and promising.

“Males are responsible for a lot of [domestic] violence,” he said. “And for men to take that type of initiative, for [men] to run that image as their banner, as their beacon, I think that’s a really great step.” Redcorn is a father of two girls and said the issue of violence against women is something that plagues him often. He hopes the image will give voice to the victims who can no longer speak for themselves. “These people are gone, so who’s going to talk for them?” he said.

Redcorn, who’s also a member of the comedy troupe the 1491s, said there have been people who’ve declared his illustration as being too violent. “If you’re not repulsed by that image then I did not do my job,” he said. “Getting people to feel something about the issue is the first step to mobilize.”

Chief Elk commended Redcorn for his initiative and the illustration, and said social media has provided individuals the platform to fill the space that mainstream media has ignored. “I think [social media is] helping tremendously. I think this is a way to disseminate information,” she said. “We need to teach men not to rape, so [social media] has become a real tool and medium to do that.”

Chief Elk said the map of murdered and missing indigenous women is “by no means complete.” She said, in time, they intend to include reports from Mexico and South America.

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