They are still killing us: Savanna Greywind, Carla Yellowbird, Barbara Kentner, Cindy Gladue and many others have had their lives extinguished violently and indiscriminately
As my heart bleeds out my fingertips, becoming keystrokes forming words in the colonizer’s language, there is a wake happening in my community. A kind hearted young Dakota woman who looked after my mother when I could not was killed a few days ago. Her four children and close-knit family will mourn her throughout the night and for years to come.
Death sits on my shoulder. I began writing after seeing a friend’s unmarked grave, you know. The thought that no one would know he lived or how wonderful he was after the people he knew died, scared me. Writing about people makes them immortal. I wanted the people I loved who made me who I am to live on through me.
I’m not much different than any other Reservation NDN. I grew up among smart, beautiful, funny, generous, brave, incredibly resilient people who are the keepers of rich, ancient cultures and vast ancestral knowledge, but who were also born under systemic oppression, crushing poverty, and historical trauma that is the direct result of settler attempts to exterminate us.
Native genocide is ongoing. It hides itself behind words like suicide, food deserts, disease, addiction, violence, and erasure, but the result is the same. All because the colonizer has a hole inside him that he cannot fill.
War, disease, and starvation did not work. We survived. They unilaterally breached treaties, stole our lands and children, outlawed our religion, and threw our ancestors in jails, asylums, and concentration camps. We went underground. We adapted…but so did genocide. It’s become more insidious; covert. It’s slipped into the collective subconscious, chased with a heavy dose of misogyny. When society ignores injustices committed against brown bodies, our lives are devalued. Pop culture dehumanizes us by saying we’re nothing more than a cheap Halloween costume or objects meant solely for sexual gratification. Fake headdresses, racist mascots and confederate flag dreamcatchers tell an ignorant public that we’re extinct while spitting on the sacred.
If you want to destroy a people, you target the women. We are the root, the heart, and the backbone. We are Mother. We birth mighty red nations. That’s why colonial governments forcibly sterilized thousands of Native women for decades.
They are still killing us.
There are very little statistics available on the epidemic of missing and murdered Native women, but I can tell you this, the numbers are staggering. Here are a few Native sisters I cannot and will not forget.
A week ago, Savanna Greywind, 22, who was eight months pregnant, went missing. Police discovered a newborn daughter at the apartment of her suspected murderers a few days ago. Sunday night, her remains were found in the Red River, wrapped in plastic. What Savanna Greywind went through must have been unthinkable.
Carla Yellowbird, 27, disappeared a year before Savanna Greywind, on August 23, 2016. Her body was found in September 2016 on the Spirit Lake Nation Reservation. There have been no convictions related to her murder.
Barbara Kentner, 34, was hit with a trailer hitch in Thunder Bay, just for being Native. “I got one!” the murderers laughed. She died from her injuries in July 2017. A man has been charged with aggravated assault in relation to her death.
Cindy Gladue, 36, bled to death in the bathtub of an Alberta hotel room because of an 11-centimeter injury to her vagina in 2011. Her murderer was acquitted.
I’ve never been very good with names. I remember faces. It’s getting hard to finish this, as my eyes fill with tears. There are so many others. Their lives, extinguished.
I hope and pray Savanna’s case receives the justice it deserves, but I cannot ignore the whispers of ancestors, who remind me that law enforcement involved in the case were also present at Standing Rock, where police brutalized Native women with water cannons, mace, and rubber bullets. Whatever the outcome, natural law will prevail.
The Lakota were gifted the way of the Pipe and seven sacred rites by White Buffalo Calf Woman. Listen to us and protect us. We must love one another and hold each other up. Surrender is never an option.
I’ll leave you with this, a comforting reflection by Paula Horne: “My Sioux Valley grandmother died giving birth to my mom. I was told they sit in a special high honor with the Kunsi’s (grandmothers) in the spirit world…so is Savanna. Embrace babies to walk without mommy, but who now have that guiding light, that protective light, from mama in spirit.”