By Jessica Dropkin
There has been an ongoing epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) in the US and Canada. Montana is #5 on the top 10 list of cities in the US with the most MMIW cases.
Over 20 Indigenous women or girls go missing in Montana every year and 27% of the people reported missing are from Tribal Lands. This is only one of the states in the US where these atrocities are taking place, while an estimated 5000+ Indigenous Women become MMIW every year across the country, and beyond our borders.
In Canada, Highway 16 is called the “Highway of Tears” because there are a multitude of MMIW reports, and cases, that have taken place along these roads. There are MMIW Awareness billboards already up along this highway. In the US, Interstate 90, especially where it passes through in Montana, is our “Highway of Tears”. These are both named after the Trail of Tears which was a massive displacement that forced 60,000 or more Natives from their lands by the US government between the years 1830 and 1850.
Billboards have been going up along highways in Montana to highlight the MMIW epidemic, thanks to Jen Buckley, the owner of Tveraa Photography and a member of the Chippewa-Cree Tribe. The photo series she has produced for these billboards visually spreads the message of this crisis without speaking. These billboards feature a photograph of an Indigenous woman or girl with a red handprint over their mouths with varying statements, “How many must go missing, until you start to listen” and “We will be heard”. There are currently three of these billboards in Missoula, Billings and Havre in Montana. There are two more going up in Polson and Great Falls in June 2021.
The response to her work has been positive, however there has been negative backlash from people who consider MMIW a political issue. Jen disagrees and said, “It’s a health issue.”. It’s disappointing that there are people who see the MMIW crisis as political when it’s a human rights abuse issue as well as a spotlight on the US, and Canadian governments, along with their justice systems.
“I think the problem is that people aren’t paying attention, people aren’t talking, people aren’t getting involved,” she said to Char-Koosta News, “You can get involved a hundred different ways you just have to ask, and that’s what these photos are for. I want this to be continually talked about. I want these women, children, and people to be continually searched for until they’re brought home,” she said that the message is also for perpetrators of violence against Indigenous women; “We may not know yet, but we’re going to know.” The fight for MMIW and justice for their families and loved ones will not stop until they are found, and cases solved. It’s so common for a movement to gain momentum for a few days to a week and people proceed to stop bringing awareness to this topic and focus on another one. Let’s all stay focused on the MMIW epidemic together so we can bring these Native women back to their lands and families.
If you’d like information on sponsoring a billboard in your community, send an email to TveraaPhotography@gmail.com. Additional funds raised will be donated to the Snowbird Fund, an effort by the Montana Community Foundation which provides direct financial assistance to Montana’s Native families searching for loved ones.
Watch ‘Understanding How the Laws Encourage Violence’ by Nonviolence New York https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1tyx1lFhVX0
Join our MMIW Campaign https://www.nonviolenceny.org/mmiw
MMIW Billboards Are Going Up Statewide