Youth Leaders Spreading MMIW Awareness With RC Organizers
The Red Ribbon Skirt Society draws awareness to the high number of Indigenous women, children and two spirit, or LGBT, people who are victims of violence. It’s part of a national organization called Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. The Rapid City based society educates young people who then spread the message.
The ribbon skirt is a symbol of womanhood for many Indigenous communities. About 10 Minnesota girls from 11 to 18 years old work with the Red Ribbon Skirt Society. Madge Ducheneaux is Lakota and leads the group.
“We decided that we should just make it official and start a society to focus on that issue.”
Ducheneaux’s mother founded the South Dakota group. Ducheneaux coordinates a co-ed program called The Right Path through a youth leadership program in the Division of Indian Works. She says three remembrance walks have honored the victims of violence.
“We make sure that our girls are of age to be discussing some of these topics because we do talk about violence against women, not only from men but women against women violence too. We talk about topics that you might need to be a little bit older for.”
Ducheneaux wants to teach young Indigenous women how to keep themselves safe. Statistics are difficult to determine, but some studies report as many as four out of five Native women are victims of violence at some point in their life. The number of Indigenous women who go missing or are murdered is higher than most other racial or ethnic groups.
“It’s something that doesn’t go away for us because we’re all young Native women. Even me, even though I’m a mom, I’m still a daughter. We still think about when we go out we know there’s a target on our back so we’ve always got to be careful.”
Ducheneaux says her daughter is becoming an ambassador for the Red Ribbon Skirt Society-and she plans to take the group’s information to women in urban areas of Minnesota while she attends college.
Another woman who’s becoming an ambassador for the movement is Lauren Schad. She’s Lakota and a professional volleyball player currently living in France. Schad says it’s important to expand the education about violence against Indigenous women.
“We’re also making sure that we’re teaching young men and men also how to treat women and how to take care of them and protect them if needed because we know that it’s not something where we should leave the burden on young women and these women to take care of themselves. You have to change how people see these women and how they act and their behavior.”
Education can be a powerful way to reduce the number of Indigenous women who become victims. Schad uses her platform to spread this awareness globally-sometimes speaking with French newspapers, and sharing facts on social media. She recently experienced an example of stereotypes against Indigenous women.
“There was a game last season where there was a half time show of dancers who dressed up in fringe and leather bras and feathers on their head.”
Schad says it took her a while to figure out how to react since the performance was live during the French Cup Championship.
“I was just filled with a lot of confusion and anger and I realized that I still had to be professional about it in the sense that I had to tackle it in a way that is smart and educated to that I can help other people understand.”
Schad took a couple days to clear her head then spoke out against the performance.
“A lot of people in France came back to me and said ‘oh no we don't mean it in a bad way, it’s not in a harmful way it’s just that we love Native culture, we love what it represents.’ And that’s one of those moments where you have to educate and you have to tell them that you can respect the culture but you have to do it in a good way. And this is me telling you this is not a good way and this is not the way to go about it.”
She says the sexualized characterization of Native women can contribute to demeaning behavior.
“Having these stereotypes and over-sexualization of women that put Native American women in an image that makes them deemed as non-human and just objects that people can mistreat and abuse.”
In the off-season, Schad travels reservations and urban areas with high Indigenous populations in the U.S. and Canada for volleyball camps. She uses that time to teach young women what they can do to keep themselves safe. Many of the approaches come from common self-defense tactics. It’s about being aware of your surroundings and knowing how to get help.
“If you’re in a parking lot and see someone following you-how to react to that and what’s your best way of getting out of a situation that is unfavorable and it’s not safe. Just these things that you could do that are so small but could make a difference between being safe or having a terrible ending.”
Schad says while some of her training speaks directly to Indigenous women, teaching Indigenous men how to help women stay safe is also a crucial part of the movement.