December 5, 2023

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Why I Run to Combat the Erasure of Indigenous People

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May 5 is the birthday of Hanna Harris. Hanna was a Northern Cheyenne mother, daughter, and loved one whose life was taken too soon when she was murdered in 2013. Her family fought hard for justice, and with the support of the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center (NIWRC) and other advocates, successfully pushed to make her birthday a National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) in 2018. For the past four years, May 5 has been designated by the U.S. government as a day to recognize this epidemic of genocide and injustice happening to Indigenous Peoples.

Hanna’s legacy gives visibility to the thousands of missing and murdered loved ones and the wide scope of this epidemic and crisis. The U.S Department of Justice has found that Indigenous women face murder rates that are more than 10 times the national average.The day of awareness helps amplify the voices of families, survivors of violence, and advocates. MMIWG events can inform people who are unaware of this injustice, bring allies to the cause, and inspire a call to action to end the violence, which has been happening since 1492. The goal is to create a future of safety and visibility for Indigenous women, girls, two spirits, trans kin, and relatives. This day of community grieving can bring fresh trauma for many, and it’s emotionally and spiritually heavy for all. After all the hours of planning and organizing, speaking, running in prayer, and sharing stories to honor loved ones, families, survivors, and advocates, MMIWG activists should be able to decompress when it’s over, to end their day with healing. This year, that didn’t happen.

The Erasure of Indigenous Peoples From Social Media and Other Platforms

I run for our stolen relatives—to pray for them, honor them, and remember them. It has given my running new purpose and meaning. Intersecting running with advocacy is my way of elevating what our communities are fighting for. So going into this year’s May 5 awareness events, I was grateful to run in prayer again, and to do it in a much bigger way — with the Running for Justice virtual run. This was my way of bringing the community together to participate and support the heart work in this movement.

My day on May 5 began at 7 a.m. and ended 14 hours later. Along with working my full-time day job, I was a speaker and organizer on panels with the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center and for my own organization, Rising Hearts. I listened to many webinars so I could support and learn. I shared more than 100 posts on Instagram about everything May 5 and awareness for MMIWG. It was great to connect with community. The following morning, I woke up exhausted and heavy with emotions. I expected to have the day as a time to process and heal.

I felt some hope, believing that the heart work that went into the week of action from NIWRC and all the incredible events we organized had made an impact. I hoped that Indigenous Peoples would finally be seen and heard—that this one day, May 5, would eventually lead to our cause being recognized and acknowledged every day. But then I checked Instagram: More than 30 posts had been removed from the stories and feeds of relatives, friends, families who’d lost loved ones, and organizers who’d shared content about MMIWG. I checked my own Instagram, and most of my stories had been removed too. The same thing also happened on the Rising Hearts Instagram account I manage. Plus, most of our content for the Rising Hearts Running for Justice virtual 5K, 10K, and half marathon was gone. These posts featured people who’d registered for our virtual run/walk, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous. The posts that people shared, showing their run or walk in support for missing and murdered Indigenous relatives, were gone.

My heart is broken for the families and everyone who took part in this awareness effort. We have only one day to raise our voices, to be the representation and be in control of the narrative, to be heard and build community. But we were all technologically silenced. This follows the silencing of our relatives who were lost to violence, and the silencing of their families who suffer from a system that continuously oppresses and perpetuates violence in our Indigenous communities.

Indigenous Peoples are constantly fighting their own erasure on every platform. We saw it when former CNN political pundit Rick Santorum made comments that erased Native Americans from American culture. (He was removed from that media role thanks to a strong campaign led by IllumiNatives and many who spoke out.) We also saw it when CNN labeled the population that helped make history in turning out the vote—that is, voters who are not white, Latinx, Black, or Asian American—as “something else.”

The recent form of erasure on Instagram is an act to remove us. It continues to perpetuate a whitewashed, inaccurate narrative about Indigenous Peoples.

After those countless stories and posts were erased, an Instagram employee responded, blaming a technical malfunction for the deleted content.

Reading that statement felt very disheartening. It left me and many others feeling gaslit, invisible, and invalidated. There was no real accountability or apology. I think the company should donate to the organizations that were impacted, including NIWRC, Sovereign Bodies Institute, AKNWRC, Navajo Missing and Murdered Diné Relatives, Restoring Ancestral Winds, MMIW USA, MMIWhoIsMissing, Seeding Sovereignty, Rising Hearts, Strong Hearts, Urban Indian Health Institute, Urban Indigenous Collective, and many more.

From Tragedy to Hope

May 5 and May 6 were hard days. So many people showed up again to elevate our voices, which was amazing. But since then, the topic of MMIWG isn’t in the spotlight anymore; it’s not a consistent conversation, and that needs to change. We need to keep raising awareness. We need to support the organizations, families, and advocates doing this work.

Non-Indigenous folks can lend their skills to help support and elevate these efforts. Every day is a good day to raise awareness, through running or whatever means are available to you. You can also wear orange on September 30, in remembrance of boarding school and residential school survivors and for the thousands of children who never made it home; MMIWG intersects with the history of boarding schools. And you can help support and run for other groups and causes during Domestic Violence Awareness month in October, on Indigenous Peoples Day in October, and during Native American and Alaska Native Heritage Month in November.

I think the transformative change that we desperately need today and for our next seven generations is not only possible but also slowly happening. A ripple effect of inspiration, motivation, and action is taking place, and I’m grateful to be in a place to help advocate and educate.

[Originally reported in Runner’s World. Written by Jordan Marie Brings Three White Horses Daniel]

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