President Joe Biden has declared May 5 to be Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Awareness Day, saying that “all Americans” should support efforts to increase awareness of the issue.
“On Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Awareness Day, we remember the Indigenous people who we have lost to murder and those who remain missing and commit to working with Tribal Nations to ensure any instance of a missing or murdered person is met with swift and effective action,” says the proclamation issued by the president on May 4.
May 5 is often recognized as a national day of awareness for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls across the United States and Canada. Indigenous activists have often commemorated the day by wearing red clothing. People wear red in remembrance and honor, “not just to represent the many hearts broken by the loss of our stolen sisters but also because for many tribes red is a sacred color,” according to Meskwaki.org, the website of the Meskwaki Nation's Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa.
According to a Department of Justice study based on 2010 data, more than 4 in 5 American Indian and Alaska Native women and men have experienced violence in their lifetime. More than half of American Indian and Alaska Native women had experienced sexual violence, and more than half had experienced violence by an intimate partner according to the study.
In his proclamation, Biden acknowledged that “sexual violence, human trafficking, domestic violence, violent crime, systemic racism, economic disparities, and substance use and addiction,” were among the underlying causes that led to the disparities.
“Our failure to allocate the necessary resources and muster the necessary commitment to addressing and preventing this ongoing tragedy not only demeans the dignity and humanity of each person who goes missing or is murdered, it sends pain and shockwaves across our Tribal communities,” the proclamation reads. “We recognize there is a level of mistrust of the United States Government in many Native communities, stemming from a long history of broken promises, oppression, and trauma. That is why we are pursuing ways to build trust in our Government and the systems designed to provide support to families in need.”
In the proclamation, Biden also committed to supporting a 2021 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. The act — originally passed in 1994 — has previously been reauthorized three times, most recently in 2013. The authorization in 2013 codified more prosecutorial authority to tribal governments.
“[VAWA] reaffirms inherent Tribal authority to prosecute certain non-Indian offenders — extending protections from domestic violence and dating violence to Native American victims of sexual violence, stalking, trafficking, child abuse, elder abuse, and assault against law enforcement or justice personnel when crimes are committed on Tribal territory,” the proclamation notes.