Each earring on the “Sing our Rivers Red” exhibit represents a local missing or abused indigenous woman and aims to bring awareness about Native American and gender-based violence in the United States and Canada.
The Durango exhibit is part of a national movement that sheds light on the violence against Native American women, using water as a symbol for the lives of women and red to represent the missing and murdered women and those drowning in injustice.
Earrings show a personal connection, woman-to-woman.
AJ Nequatewa, a Fort Lewis College graduate and Navajo, led a workshop at FLC in October where students painted earrings for the exhibit.
Nequatewa said she has a friend who has been missing from the Navajo reservation since July, and she knows Native American women who are survivors of violence and rape.
Nearly 75 percent of crimes investigated on tribal lands in the United States involve homicide, rape, violent assaults or child abuse, according to statistics from the FBI.
A government accountability report found the complexity of legal jurisdiction often results in sexual assault cases being handed over to the U.S. Attorneys Office versus being tried in tribal court, and about 67 percent of such cases are not pursued because of lack of scientific evidence and witnesses.
More than half experience sexual violenceThe Sexual and Assault Services Organization in Durango partnered with FLC in late November to host a symposium focused on violence against Native American women.
Maura Doherty Demko, SASO executive director, said in Colorado, 1 of 4 women will experience some type of sexual violence in their lifetime, but the statistics don’t cross over to the Native American population.
“We all need to work together to understand how hard and detrimental violence is for Native American women so that we as an agency and community can serve the people that we are all a part of,” Demko said.
Among indigenous women, 4 of 5 will experience violence in their lifetime, and more than half will experience sexual violence, according to the National Institute of Justice.
FLC senior and Navajo April Yazza spoke at the symposium about how she survived sexual abuse at age 9 and learned later in life how to overcome victim shaming, or self-blaming for what she encountered.
Yazza said her abuse extended beyond her childhood and manifested in ways like anger, depression and control issues.
She said it took her about 13 years to come to terms with her past abuse, and women should take the healing process in their own time.
“I want to speak for those who cannot yet speak for themselves,” she said.
Yazza published a #MeToo video on YouTube and Instagram in June that detailed how she went through the healing process, moving her from victim to advocate.
“For so long, when I was getting ready for school, I would have a note on the mirror that said, ‘It’s 2018, you are April Yazza, you are 23 years old and you’re at Fort Lewis College,’” Yazza said. “It’s important to focus on the present versus reverting to the past abuse.”