Gayle M Irwin


Composing Creative Conversations:
Writing Stories, Engaging Readers, and Encouraging Authors 

Writing From the Heart: Prose With Purpose – Part 1: Missing and Murdered Indigenous People

Mar 08, 2022 by Gayle M Irwin

 

Billboard along Interstate 90 in Montana about a young Indigenous woman who went missing in 2019 and whose body was later discovered.
No one has been arrested in this case as of February 2022. GIrwin photo.
 

As I drove along I-90 south of Hardin, Montana a few weeks ago, a billboard caught my eye. A young Indigenous woman’s face appeared on the sign with a headline announcing a huge monetary reward for information on the young lady’s killer. Tears flowed as I pulled over and read, and took a photograph of, the billboard.

I recently watched a documentary titled Murdered and Missing in Montana, a film depicting this 18-year-old Native girl and another who went missing and was later discovered dead. The documentary was heartbreaking, and these young women are just two of thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG) reported across the United States, including Alaska.

During the past two weeks, I wrote two stories on this subject, one scheduled to appear in a Wyoming newspaper this week and another scheduled for publication in a regional magazine in April. Wyoming’s Wind River Reservation is home for two tribes: the Eastern Shoshone and the Northern Arapahoe. Several young women have gone missing from there and have been later found dead.

Men and boys also go missing in Wyoming as well as in other states. In fact, the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database listed more than 4,100 Native American girls ages 17 and under, more than 1,150 Native women, and more than 4,200 Native American boys and men throughout America missing in 2020. MMIWG has morphed into MMIP, Missing and Murdered Indigenous People.
 

The Wind River Reservation in Wyoming and the Crow Reservation in Montana encompass more than 2 million acres each. Yet, both reservations have
less than 10 law enforcement (Bureau of Indian Affairs) officers to patrol and investigate. GIrwin photo
 

Researching for and writing these articles took a great deal of time. It also took a toll on my emotional health. The more I researched, interviewed, and wrote, the more my heart tore apart. Girls and boys, teenaged and younger; babies; young women and men, 16 and up; and older women and men, from 30 and 40 to 60+ go missing. Some are never found. Others are found deceased, sometimes in the same area where they went missing but weeks or months later. Many people, including families and law enforcement, suspect human trafficking, some for labor, most, especially the girls and women, for sex.

That’s another issue I covered several years ago. When the Bakken oil man camps took root in North Dakota several years ago, law enforcement and other officials suspected sex trafficking rings also burrowed deeper into society. Between interstates 80, 25, and 90, victims could be shuffled from large cities like Seattle, Denver, and Minneapolis to these sites and back again. Montana’s Crow and Northern Cheyenne reservations lie along and close to Interstate 90, and though that oilfield boom has busted, now Indigenous women could be taken from their families and shuttled to those large cities … and beyond.

Whether it’s human trafficking or other vileness, the issue of MMIP (as well as all missing people and runaway kids) needs serious attention. No matter a person’s skin color or age or background, every human being matters. As one of my interviewees for the magazine story said, “We are all human, and we all do matter.” I fully agree with that statement. From my Christian perspective, each individual is created in the image of God, and He loves every one.

Writing stories such as MMIP and human trafficking involves writing from the heart … and with heart and with purpose. Yet, these articles can be, and are, for me anyway, heartbreaking and take an emotional toll. Each missing person, each murdered individual, is a family member, a friend, an aunt, sister, brother, uncle, mom, dad, grandparent – each missing and murdered person leaves loved ones who mourn and miss them. The stories need to be told to educate and not forget. With further education and awareness, action needs to be taken.

On this International Women's Day, we have many reasons to celebrate. Women have come a long way over the centuries and generations. This day also offers a time of reflection ... and a time mourning. Too many women and girls endure violence and experience fear for too many others today desire to keep us down. Instead of empowerment and encouragement, we continue to experience barriers and exploitation due to racial bias, power, greed, and misguided concepts -- even by some who claim to be Christ-followers. However, Jesus welcomed women, encouraged them, and empowered them. He brought healing, not strife. The Samaritan woman at the well. The woman about to be stoned for adultery. The mothers and their children. From Mary Magdalene to Esther, Dorcus to Deborah, women of Bible times played significant roles in both the Old and New Testaments. Women continue serving vital roles today; they showcase strength, creativity, and intelligence. Yet, many of our sisters are kidnapped, enslaved, and assaulted. May we take this special day to encourage, empower, and educate.



 

























 

A graphic outlining the tragic issue of MMIWG from MMIWG Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/MMIWG-100577301458387



Let us put our compassion and humanity into motivation and action. Let us speak (or write) to educate, bring awareness, and further move on behalf of these individuals and their families by imploring lawmakers, law enforcement, and our elected officials to begin putting an end to sexual and domestic violence, assault, and trafficking. Each person matters.

 

Learn more about MMIP here: https://mmiwhoismissing.org/

Learn more about MMIWG here: https://www.niwrc.org/node/462

Learn more about missing children here: https://mmiwhoismissing.org/