“U.S. political leaders and the media have ignored us long enough.”
That’s the message thousands of international indigenous activists will be bringing to Washington Friday for the first ever Indigenous Peoples March. They are seeking to bring national attention to injustices endured by Indigenous people across the globe.
The event, coming a day before the third annual Women’s March, is organized by the Indigenous Peoples Movement (IPM), an international grassroots collective seeking to unify tribes and indigenous peoples from North, South and Central America, the Pacific, Asia, Africa and the Caribbean.
“Our main goal is to send a message that we are still here, we are organized, and we are growing,” said IPM media coordinator Darren Thompson, an Ojibwe and member of the Lac du Flambeau tribe in Wisconsin. “We are looking not only to empower each other but share important information with the American public about the legacy of colonization.”
As many as 80 speakers and indigenous performers will participate in the event, which is hash tagged #IPMDC19 on social media. They include Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), a member of the Laguna Pueblo and one of the first two Native American women elected to the U.S. Congress, and Ruth Buffalo, recently elected first Native American Democrat to the North Dakota Legislature.
Also speaking will be Ashley Callingbull, a Cree First Nations woman from the Enoch Cree Nation in the province of Alberta, Canada, and a former Miss Universe who works to empower indigenous youth through relating stories of her own experiences with physical and sexual abuse.
They will address a wide range of issues and injustices impacting indigenous communities, including the environment, voter suppression, police brutality and a global epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women (MMIW).
Historic marginalization and racism, the legacies of colonization, have left indigenous women particularly vulnerable to violence. Statistics are hard to come by, owing to spotty reporting by victims and police. The U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) reports that 84 percent of Native American and Alaska Native (NA/AN) women have experienced violence in their lives, and more than half of them are survivors of sexual violence. Ninety-six percent of victims of rape or sexual assault are attacked by non-native assailants, and NA/AN women in the United States are murdered at a rate ten times higher than the national average.
In addition, a 2015 National Congress of American Indians study of four sites in the U.S. and Canada found that about 40 percent of women involved in sex trafficking identified as an AI/AN or First Nation from Canada.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz (Igorot, from the Philippines), reported in 2015 that indigenous women worldwide are vulnerable to rape, enslavement or murder, particularly during military conflicts.
IPM organizers say they are looking to advocate policies to strengthen indigenous rights and to encourage solidarity among global indigenous groups across borders imposed by European colonizers.
They expect to draw a crowd of 10,000 from as far away as Australia, Guatemala, Papua New Guinea, and the Caribbean.
“Though since we are piggybacking on the Women’s March on Saturday, that number could be much, much higher,” said Thompson.