This is a portrait of 22-year old Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind an Indigenous woman living in Fargo, North Dakota. In August of 2017, she was eight months pregnant when she was abducted and killed as her baby was taken from her womb. Fortunately, the perpetrators were apprehended and her baby survived. Her daughter is living with her family and is safe and healthy. Unfortunately (beyond the brutal act itself), literally thousands of indigenous women, girls, two-spirit and trans individuals have been murdered or gone missing across the US and Canada for generations. The background of this piece includes only 165 of those aforementioned individuals. (Canada seems to be better than the US at beginning to organize, implement, and maintain an accurate database.) It’s important to emphasize, that like my portrait of George Floyd, while only one person is depicted, each name was a life.
Each name was a human being, someone’s child, someone’s mother (ages 18 month-84 years old). Each individual had a unique story and personality. Each name was a life. And those lives were stolen. As a society we are failing Indigenous women. In fact, we are beyond failing them, because their plight is hardly being acknowledged and documented, let alone taken seriously, or solved. To add figurative insult to injury, many of these cases are not taken seriously by law enforcement. It’s expansive and heartbreaking. Here is a 35 min. listen that NPR released August 25, 2020.
In a rare turn of events Savanna’s heartbreaking tragedy lead to potential legislation, with Savanna’s Act. Savanna’s Act “reforms law enforcement and justice protocols appropriate to address missing and murdered Native women.” However, thousands of these cases are unsolved, or even undocumented in the first place.
This is a huge crisis that is tricky to understand and solve due to jurisdictional issues, systemic racism & misogyny, colonialism, inaccurate & missing data, etc. Admittedly, some of those who went missing were involved in sex work, had addiction, or mental health issues. However, that doesn’t mean their deaths (or anyone’s) are deserved or justified. It’s also important to recognize these lost women also include children, middle school, high school, and college students, young mothers, working professionals, and grandmothers. Even more evidence of how pervasive this crisis is–is the fact that siblings, cousins, or multiple members from extended families have been killed or gone missing.
If you or someone you know needs help, StrongHearts Native Helpline 1-844-7NATIVE (762-8483) is a domestic, dating and sexual violence helpline for American Indians and Alaska Natives, offering culturally-appropriate support and advocacy daily from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. CT. The helpline is anonymous and confidential.
You can also find the National Domestic Violence Hotline’s number at 1-800-799-7233.