Did you know that (per the Indian Law Resource Center) more than 4 out of 5 American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced violence, and more than 50% have experienced sexual violence? Were you aware that, according to the Center for Disease Control, the third-leading cause of death for Native American and Alaska Native women aged 10-24, is murder? Twenty-five-year-old Calina Lawrence knows and her mission is to speak the truth of Native women until the world understands the scope of this problem – one that goes largely unaddressed in the justice system.
For 40 years, United States law has made it nearly impossible for Indian nations to prosecute non-Natives, who reportedly commit about 88% of violent crimes against Native women on tribal lands. In the 1978 Supreme Court case Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe, the court determined that tribal courts do not have criminal jurisdiction over non-indigenous people, and so they may not punish them without authorization from Congress. Non-Native individuals compose over 75% of the population on tribal lands and federal and state authorities decline to prosecute nearly 70% of matters occurring on tribal lands that are referred to them. The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 updated some of these issues, giving tribes jurisdiction over “domestic violence, dating violence and violations of protective orders that occur on their lands,” but violence has not decreased.
As an enrolled member of the Suquamish Tribe, Lawrence was raised in the Pacific Northwest within her indigenous culture. She graduated from the University of San Francisco with degrees in performing arts and social justice and, since graduating, has become a leader in pushing for awareness in violence against native women, advocating for Native Treaty Rights, and has been an active participant in the “Mni Wiconi” (Water is Life) movement led by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.
Lawrence strongly believes that there is a strong connection between the violence against Native people and the violence against Native lands. She said, “The violence against women is synonymous with the environmental injustice that we have been facing… And until we can really sit down and continue conversations that address that reality for the most marginalized, the most vulnerable, which, in my experience, [are] Native American women and LGBTQ and children…we have a real shot at redefining our humanity and redefining how we exist and coexist with Mother Earth.”
Awareness of missing and murdered Indigenous women was first brought to light in Canada when the true nature of government-mandated boarding schools was made public. These school systems and their near-identical counterparts in the United States were created for the sole purpose of assimilating Native children into “white” culture. Students were forced to move long distances from their families, prohibited from speaking their native languages, were exposed to diseases like tuberculosis and flu, as well as physical and sexual abuse. In Canada, at least 6,000 students are estimated to have died while at these boarding schools; there is no true number of those who perished in America. The larger legacy of these institutions has been a created culture of violence, post-traumatic stress, alcoholism, substance abuse, and suicide within indigenous communities in the Americas.
According to Calina, “This [has] been ongoing since colonial invasion. It’s been ongoing since the boarding school eras, where they stripped our children from families and abused them in religious boarding schools. Those things have been inherited. The patriarchal violence that we’ve been on the receiving end still very much exists today. And so, there’s a lot of work that’s happening, not only around collecting these stories and this information but really working in the community to shift our psychological approach, to start to ask the comfortable questions and to hold more folks accountable as to what contributes to our dehumanization.”
Referring to water, land, and animals as “non-human relatives”, she works to aid all at-risk elements of violence against Native peoples. She considers herself an “art-ivist”; a talented singer, Calina has released a number of singles since her college graduation, most relating to Native issues and featuring other indigenous artists. She is scheduled to release her first full album this year.
When it was announced that the “Times Up” campaign, which was created to fight sexual harassment, assault, and inequality for women in all industries, would participate in the 2018 Golden Globes, many advocate attendees opted to bring notable activists as their companions. Lawrence attended with actress Shailene Woodley – whom she met when both were protesting at Standing Rock. The indigenous activist said, “As an indigenous woman from Washington state, and on behalf of missing and murdered indigenous women and those who commit their lifetime and effort to finding justice for us, we stand in solidarity with the Time’s Up movement and this initiative to create healing and empowerment across the world. It’s an honor to be a part and to celebrate and to speak truth.”
Lead image credit: The University of San Francisco