The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, Two-Spirit and Trans people (MMIWG2ST) movement is too often overlooked. American Indian and Alaska Native women perennially have one of the highest percentages of people who die by homicide, are reported missing or trafficked, and are subject to physical and sexual violence. Dom and Nyge talk with Lacee Mouser (Choctaw), the communications specialist at Oklahoma’s Native Alliance Against Violence about their services, the national Strong Hearts Helpline.org, and other resources in the #MMIWG2ST movement.
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Sam: This is Sam Choo, EP of Adult ISH. We’ll start the show in a second, but I wanted to give a heads up that this episode includes discussion of some tough topics, abuse, sexual violence, and racially based harm. Please take care as you listen.
Nyge: Welcome to Adult ISH, produced by YR Media, and brought to you by Radiotopia from PRX. I’m Nyge Turner.
Dom: And I’m Dominique French and this week we’re discussing the lived experiences of Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people.
American Indian and Alaska Native people across the U.S. are working to shape a future where Women, Girls, Two-Spirit and Trans people can be safe and supported in community. They fight to end the disproportionately high rates of murder and sexual assault.
According to an October 2021 policy paper from the National Congress of American Indians, 84 percent of Native women experience violence — and more than half experience sexual violence.
And, the vast majority, 96% of American Indian and Alaska Native female victims of sexual violence experience it at the hands of non-Indigenous perpetrators
Yet, the federal government rarely intervenes. In 2016, the US Department of Justice logged only 116 out of more than 5,700 (5,712) reports of missing American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls. That’s according to a report from the National Crime Information Center.
And more than two-thirds of sexual violence cases on tribal lands were declined prosecution by US Attorneys — that’s from the Indigenous Journalists Association.
And I thought, that this was something that we just needed to talk about.
Nyge: So, we sat down with Lacee Mouser, the communications specialist at the Native Alliance Against Violence, and member of the Choctaw Nation.
Dom: So, when getting ready for this episode, I got the feedback that a lot of Indigenous people don't want to discuss these topics during the Thanksgiving season because it's often the only time that people are discussing these topics. Could you speak on that?
Lacee: Um, yeah. So I know that November is recognized as Native American Heritage Month, and so in addition to Thanksgiving and the, you know, historical implications of that, you know, the fall is kind of an interesting time as well -- because October, as you may know, is Domestic Violence Awareness Month as well, and so, which also has, like Indigenous Peoples' Day, which also has its own historical connotations with that day as well. And so, the fall’s kind of a busy time mentally for Indigenous peoples. And for me, like, I'm going through grad school right now, so like, I have a lot of, you know, friends or acquaintances that like will tell me like, "Oh, I have just, like..." almost like they're the spokesperson, or at least that's how people ask them questions around this time. And it's not fun, you know, to be like, the only person maybe in a class or in an environment where people think that you're the ultimate source just because you have one lived experience. And so, I think that it is just mentally taxing on top of all the other things we have to deal with. So I think that's why some people may not want to educate. But for me, I kind of like, you know, opening the door and conversation and, you know, getting into like these harder topics that, like, most people don't talk about at all. So including Indigenous voices is, I think, helpful and, um, you know, educational and beneficial to everybody.
Nyge: Like what drew you to work with Native Alliance Against Violence?
Lacee: Um, so when I was a freshman at the University of Oklahoma, I joined the native sorority on campus, and so - which is an awesome organization to not only provide leadership and, you know, opportunities for Native students who may be first generation, but also the, now is our philanthropy. So that's how I got introduced to it. And so, I minored in criminology, and so - I've always been like a true crime fan, and so I was like, well, if I can help, you know, combat that issue as well - that was kind of an interest for me. And so that is, that... and needing a job.
Nyge: So, do violence prevention orgs in the Native Alliance or in other Indigenous communities try to create safer space for people in their circles and to report concerns?
Lacee: Um, yes. The Native Alliance Against Violence is a coalition, so we try to connect all of the tribal domestic violence program, and a lot of them have grant money just to help victims of any crime. And, I like to just kind of get this out early but a lot of the missing and murdered Indigenous problems stem from domestic violence and, like, sexual assault. You know, Indigenous communities, even in Oklahoma, are still pretty small and contained. And so, coming together and recognizing that violence is not a traditional practice. And, you know, historically, women are supposed to be, you know, held up to, like, sacred standards. And so, they will work with the community to not only do awareness outreach, but also workshops to kind of help not only bring awareness to the issues, but also ways to prevent it as well.
Dom: Could you speak on what those sacred standards are?
Lacee: Um, well, I know that every tribe is different and each has, like, their own like, micro culture, if you will. Like, for me, I know that, like, the Choctaw Nation is matrilineal. So like, like my mom and grandmother are where I get my, like, native heritage, and so, holding that as, like where you come from and your people is through the women in your family, that kind of not only helps you understand, you know, your own history, but also, tribal history and even the future and generations to come. So, you know, obviously, if those, you know, women leaders weren't there, then the entire culture would be completely different. And so, kind of upholding those traditional beliefs and practices is important and trying something - we're trying to get back to in modern times.
Dom: Thank you.
Nyge: I'm curious what kind of prevention programs seem to be making a real impact that you can see?
Lacee: So last week, I went to - it feels like all over the state. But, I traveled to Hugo, Oklahoma, for the Choctaw Nation's domestic violence awareness walk. They had... they recently opened the first [tribal] Child Advocacy Center nationwide. And that advocacy center helps treat, like, child victims of sexual assault and, you know, other victimizations of domestic violence and, you know, helps provide services such as advocacy, emotional support, or even sexual assault nurse examinations - which, you know, is important if you want to, you know, go in a legal route for justice. And so, having that as a center of safety not only catches things potentially, but also, you know, offers the idea that, you know, help is out there. And since their opening, they've had over 800 cases or calls. So that's, you know, services that weren't there even two years ago. So that's pretty interesting. And I know that a lot of tribes that I work with, particularly in the northern part of the state, they work with high schools and do outreach that way, especially the Kaw Nation’s Family Trauma Healing Center. They try to make it, an effort to work with their local high school athletic program and talk to the high school football team and, kind of, stop violence before it begins, or even like, help them redirect before they become adults and don't have such a safe space for people to go to before things get worse.
Dom: That's amazing. How can people find help if they're experiencing abuse or violence?
Lacee: If an individual who is either in a domestic violence relationship themselves or has a loved one they think might need services or help, they can find local resources - if they're based in Oklahoma, at the Native Alliance Against Violence (NAAV) website which is https://oknaav.org/ - and then, if you are outside of Oklahoma, you can reach out to the StrongHearts Native Helpline (https://strongheartshelpline.org/), which is 1-844-762-8483 (1-844-7-NATIVE). And that is a 24/7 confidential and anonymous, culturally appropriate domestic and sexual violence helpline. And they will offer phone support if someone just wants to talk or if they want to find direct service in their area.
Dom: It's so nice to hear someone say the words culturally appropriate, like my brain is so trained to hear the words culturally appropriative. So, it’s just nice. It sounds good to my brain.
Lacee: Yeah. That's why the Native Alliance was even, like, founded. Like a lot of the tribal programs, they were like, “We need something to connect us and, you know, provide training for our staff in a way that, you know, make sense to our communities and people we serve,” and so the NAAV was created and around 2009, and here we are, so.
Dom: Are there any other places where people can find your work or any other resources. You'd like to share?
Lacee: Um, If you know about Operation Lady Justice. It created a Missing and Murdered Unit for the Bureau of Indian Affairs federal department, and so there's an entire website that provides, like, federal services and information about cases specifically. And then, I know in Oklahoma there is at least seven grassroots movement organizations that not only try to help raise funds for families who may be missing or have lost a loved one, but they also help with like active ground searches and things that may, there may be just a more need for, or the police are understaffed or any of that.
Nyge: It's been have been great. Thanks for coming on this show and thanks for, for doing this interview.
Dom: That’s Lacee Mouser. She works at the Native Alliance Against Violence in Norman, Oklahoma.
And, remember - if you or someone you know are Indigenous and being subject to violence, or have information about someone who may be traveling against their own will - reach out to the Strong Hearts Native Hotline - you can find them online at https://StrongHeartsHelpline.org/, or call 1-844-7-NATIVE - that’s 1-844-762-8483.
You can find Lacee’s podcast “Through the Cracks” about Oklahoma cold cases on Apple and Spotify.
Dom: I wanted to do this episode because I realized that we had this huge gap in Indigenous content in our catalog. And having done it now, it just makes me realize that there's even more that we've got to talk about. It is sort of, like, I don't know... Maybe like with working out, where it's like you start and you're like, "Oh man! I'm so far away from a deep understanding of what it is that I want to have, and I want my body to understand." That's how I feel. Like, I feel like I've just done a couple of push-ups as far as my understanding of Indigenous cultures. And, I'm so thankful to Lacey for giving me that, that taste. And now I'm just ready for more and hopeful to make some sort of change and difference in the Missing and Murdered movement.
Nyge: Yeah, I definitely feel the same way. Like I feel like this is definitely a topic that needs to be touched on more, and we're definitely just scratching the surface. I'm incredibly thankful to Lacey for coming on the show and providing resources, and I hope that somehow they can reach people, especially the people that they need to reach, and it can hopefully save someone's life, essentially. When you - when you actually see the numbers on everything that's going on, like it's - it is really heartbreaking. And ,I hope that we can just be a tool and a vehicle to just keep getting this message out to people.
Dom: You know, I was actually talking to our former producer, Georgia Wright, this weekend and she said something that I never thought about before, which is that we have a platform. Which is a little bit, like, "Duh!" And, but, we do! We have this opportunity to spread this awareness to people who might not have had it otherwise, and I feel really thankful for that. And, like you said, if this just finds one person who needs it - it’ll all have been worth it.
Adult ISH is produced by YR Media, a national network of young artists and journalists creating content for this generation.
Our show is produced by shaylyn martos, Dominique French, and by me, ya boy, Nyge Turner.
Our engineer is James Riley and our audio engineering fellow is Christian Romo.
YR’s director of podcasting is Sam Choo.
YR’s senior director of podcasting and partnerships is Rebecca Martin
Our Season 10 production assistants are Menelik Ransom and Jalen Black.
Original music for this episode created by these young musicians at YR:
Christian Romo, Anders Knutstad, Noah Holt, Jacob Armenta, Chaz Whitley, Michael Diaz, Sean Luciano Galarza, David Lawrence.
Music direction by Oliver “Kuya” Rodriguez and Maya Drexler.
Art for this episode was produced by the youth co-led design team at YR Media.
Creative Direction by Pedro Vega Jr. Design by Marjerrie Masicat and Brigido Bautista.
Project management by Eli Arbreton (Are-burr-ton).
Special thanks to Jazmyn Burton, Shavonne Graham, Donielle Conley, and Kyra Kyles.
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