On Sunday evening, a roomful of students gathered at Yale’s Native American Cultural Center to show solidarity with missing and murdered indigenous women.
The ceremony, which was organized by Yale Sisters of All Nations and attended by roughly 35 people, included performances from the Blue Feather Drum Group and spoken word presentations from Native American students. It aimed to raise awareness for the alarmingly high rates of violence against indigenous women in the U.S. and Canada: 4 percent of Canada’s population is indigenous, but Native women make up 16 percent of all of the country’s female murder victims. According to a December press release from the Canadian government, indigenous women are three times more likely to experience violence than their peers of other ethnicities; likewise, Amnesty International reports that Native women are 2.5 times more likely than other women to be sexually assaulted . Organizers noted that attendance at this year’s event was higher than it was at the inaugural ceremony last year, and they attributed the turnout to both better publicity efforts and the conversations around racial justice that emerged on campus last semester.
One student in attendance, Bailey Pickens DIV ’16, said she had come after hearing about the event from a classmate who is a member of YSAN. She noted that the message of the event “seemed vital to Yale and the world.”
“I don’t think it’s that the message being spread has changed; it has always been important,” Pickens said. “It’s just that now, people are paying attention.”
The event was introduced by a variety of speakers from YSAN, including president Autumn Shone ’17. Following a performance by Blue Feather, Yale’s indigenous music performance group, Shone spoke about how emotional this showing of solidarity was for her and the other members of YSAN, noting how the murder and disappearance of indigenous women was “a reality that [she], her family and her community all live.” Shone also expressed her thanks to all the attendees, saying that the turnout gave her “hope for what Yale can and should become.”
After spoken word performances by Native students, YSAN led a ceremony and prayers, offering students candles before holding a moment of silence. Two more songs and short closing remarks from the YSAN ended the event.
The movement for support and awareness of missing and murdered indigenous women originated in Canada, according to Kelly Fayard, director of the Native American Cultural Center. Fayard added that attention to this “epidemic” has moved from Canada into the U.S., primarily North and South Dakota, but she said the issue has still gone unacknowledged on a nationwide scale.
Although the YSAN and other Native student groups are supported by the NACC, Fayard said, this event and other groups’ events are independently organized by students. She continued to emphasize the importance of events such as the vigil, not only for showing support for missing and murdered indigenous women, but also for increasing awareness of the marginalization of Native people more generally. She said Native people are often excluded from discussions about the marginalization of people of color.
Shone said she is excited for the future of the YSAN and other Native student groups in general. YSAN itself, having been founded last year, is a relatively new group.
“We have a very young, active community,” Shone said. “I’m very hopeful for our future.”
She added that the YSAN and other groups are trying to stress intersectionality with future events.
“We had help from various women’s groups around campus planning this event,” she said. “We are trying more and more to get different groups together to help broaden our reach and voice.”
On Dec. 8, 2015, the Government of Canada officially launched an inquiry into the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women, in line with campaign promises made by Canada’s newly elected prime minister, Justin Trudeau. The U.S. has not announced a similar formal inquiry.