Thu Apr 11th, 2019
The Southern Ute Drum
Every year, thousands of Indigenous women go missing, are found murdered and more often than not they are left to be survivors of sexual assault.
In her own effort to bring awareness to these issues, Kelsey Lansing, a Fort Lewis College graduate and the current Cultural Outreach Coordinator for the Sexual Assault Services Organization (SASO) in Durango, Colo. has created an extension of the national movement “Sing Our Rivers Red” earring exhibit. “With Sing Our Rivers Red’s blessing, I hosted the first earring workshop at Fort Lewis in October of 2018,” Lansing said.
Sing Our Rivers Red was originally started in 2015 to honor the fallen sisters by bringing the exhibit to raise awareness, and since then the initiative has only grown. It is now a collective that is dedicated to raising awareness for murdered and missing Indigenous women. Each earring represents an Indigenous woman who has been murdered or has gone missing. The earring exhibit has traveled to different regions throughout the United States and Canada. Over 3,400 earrings have been donated by more than 400 people, organizations and families in the U.S., Canada and the U.K.
At each workshop that SASO has hosted, people have been encouraged to donate one earring to represent a woman who they may, or may not know that has ever been missing, murdered, raped, assaulted or trafficked. “I wanted to bring cultural awareness to the community—to both native and non-natives,” Lansing stated. “We’re doing this as a resilience.”
Lansing’s local initiative has touched the hearts of families nationwide. She is encouraged by this, and feels that she is making impacts through the SASO workshops. She has received earring donations from Mexico, Texas, Washington, South Dakota, with the furthest being from New York.
In the United States today, there is no approximation for the number of Indigenous women who have been murdered or have gone missing. Varying factors play into the lack of the recording of these numbers: fear, racism, and legal obstacles all come in to the complications of the reporting women and families face.
“Nearly half of all Native American women have been raped, beaten, or stalked by an intimate partner; one in three will be raped in their lifetime; and on some reservations women are murdered at a rate 10 times higher than the national average,” according to a report titled, “OVW Tribal Consultation and the Power of ‘Voice’” published by the U.S. Department of Justice.
“This [exhibit] brings up the conversation of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women,” Lansing stated. “We [women] are taught to be quiet, I want to break that.”
Lansing’s goal is to keep the workshops going and she is dedicated to raising as much awareness as she can for the women who cannot do it for themselves.
Back in November of 2018, SASO partnered up with Fort Lewis College to host the first ever symposium that focused on violence against Native American women. “It was a huge success, we had speakers who shared their own stories of abuse—there was not a dry eye in the room,” Lansing stated. “Right now we’re planning another one to basically cover domestic violence, spiritual abuse and sex trafficking.”
This year for Native American History Month, which begins in November, Lansing is working with the Center of Southwest Studies on Fort Lewis campus to host a “Red Dress” exhibit. “It would include a candle light vigil for families, supporters and survivors to honor missing and murdered Indigenous women,” Lansing stated. “I want to encourage people to wear something red for representation as well.”
These events are held to help people see the wrongs and they demand action for all women, girls and TwoSpirit (LQBTQIA+) peoples that have ever been murdered, missing, tortured, raped and assaulted. Through the strength of healing, “Sing Our Rivers Red” believes that “Water is the source of life and so are women—we need to remember the missing and murdered and those who are metaphorically drowning in injustices. We are connecting our support through the land and waters.”
“I think now it’s all about building for the future—a lot of what I try to create is in honor of those missing and those who are being added to the list,” Lansing expressed.