About the Exhibition

What is the mmiw movement?

The MMIW  (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women) movement is an activist effort in response to the pervasive issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women across North America (Turtle Island). This movement brings awareness to an issue which did not previously receive mainstream attention. MMIW activism is made up of art, protest, pushing for legislation, and building accurate databases and stronger communities.

This movement is taking place across Canada, the continental US, and Alaska. In this exhibit we will be primarily focusing on the US.


To capture just how immense this issue is:

Indigenous American women are murdered at a rate 10x the national average

Homicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for Indigenous American women ages 10-24, and the 5th for ages 25-34

84% of Indigenous American will experience violence in their lifetime

Currently, there are 5,712 missing or murdered Indigenous women in America

Only 106 of those women are recorded in the Department of Justice’s National Missing and Unidentified Person database

34.1% of Native women will be raped in their lifetime

49% of Native women report a history of sexual violence

Historical context

This “epidemic” of violence against Indigenous women takes place in a larger historical framework. Since the process of settler colonialism began in North America, Indigenous people have been systematically victimized and exploited in order to gain access to resources, such as land. In the past, this has looked like everything from deliberate mass murder, to military attack, to the boarding school system, to foster care abuse. Each of these acts of the US government were intended to obfuscate their responsibility to tribal nations (“domestic dependent” nations), as well as to weaken the tribes themselves and eventually drive them out of existence.

Gendered violence has been a part of this process from the beginning. Women are critical figures in many tribal societies, charged with carrying immense knowledge and power. This history of gendered violence contributes to individual, community, and intergenerational trauma. As a result, gendered violence weakens tribes overall.


The current crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women can be traced, largely, to the Supreme Court case Oliphant v Saquamish Indian Tribe in 1978, which limited tribal jurisdiction so that tribes were no longer able to prosecute non-native perpetrators for crimes committed on native land. Because tribal nations are supposedly sovereign nations, state police don’t have jurisdiction over perpetrators in these cases either. Instead, the FBI has jurisdiction and throws out 3/4 of these cases without prosecuting them.

The Violence Against Women Act’s Tribal Provisions allow tribes that meet certain criteria to maintain jurisdiction over cases of domestic and dating violence and the violation of protection orders by non-natives. Only 10 tribes have been able to afford to meet the criteria set, though, and the provisions also don’t cover rape, sexual assault, or murder, those remain under the jurisdiction of the FBI.

As a result, Native American women have little recourse against violence they’ve faced on tribal land, and those who go missing or are murdered have no one to pursue their cases.

Interracial violence

Native American women are disproportiately targeted by those outside their own race (interracial), an abnormality in America as usually violence is perpetrated by someone of the same race as their victim (intraracial).

There are a few reasons this could be the case. All stem from the supposed “rapeability” of Native women. A combination of systemic barriers and unwillingness of law enforcement to take their cases seriously means most likely perpetrators will get away with murdering or assaulting Native women, as they have in the past. This is compounded by the fact that media coverage of missing and murdered indigenous women, especially before the widespread attention gained by the activist movement, blamed victims, referencing drug or alcohol use, or a “high risk” lifestyle when discussing victims.

Many cases of violence against Indigenous women occur as a result of the prevalence of groups of non-native men that move in and out of tribal land and the areas around it regularly. Hunting groups as well as “man camps” (temporary housing for transient oil workers) become hot spots of gendered violence. It is important to note, however, that not all violence against Native women occurs on remote reservations. Those who live in urban areas are also more likely to be victimized. This ties back into the concept of “rapeability.”

our exhibit's purpose

Our exhibit is meant to shed light on this important issue, as well showcase the activism, legislation, and art of the movement. We also want to expose and explain important connections between this current movement and larger themes of settler colonialism, gendered violence, and environmental exploitation.

We hope our exhibit spurs you to act, either by supporting one of the artists highlighted, calling a representative on behalf of legislation which strengthens tribal sovereignty, or advocating for better databases to account for these cases.

Thank you for visiting our virtual exhibit! Thank you also to Dr. Rule for guiding us in this effort and teaching us so much.



Morris, Carolyn Smith. “Addressing the Epidemic of Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.” Cultural Survival, 6 Mar. 2020, www.culturalsurvival.org/news/addressing-epidemic-missing-murdered-indigenous-women-and-girls.

Deer, Sarah. “Knowing through Numbers?” The Beginning and End of Rape, Jan. 2015, pp. 1–15., doi:10.5749/minnesota/9780816696314.003.0001.