A Tribe Called Red on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and Music

Sound and Vision
Emily Fox
photo by Matt Barnes

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A 2017 report from the Seattle Indian Health Board identified Seattle as the city with the most cases of missing and murdered indigenous women in the country. The Seattle City Council passed a resolution to address the crisis – but some in the indigenous community don’t believe it’s enough. Sound and Vision host Emily Fox spoke with A Tribe Called Red members Tim "2oolman" Hill, Ehren "Bear Witness" Thomas and chief research officer at the Seattle Indian Health Board Abigail Echo-Hawk about the ongoing violence against indigenous women and how it shows up in art created by first nations people.

On the systematic oppression faced by indigenous women:

Echo-Hawk: This is a prevalent issue not just in Seattle and Washington, but across North America and South America, as a direct result of the colonization that happened in this land. This crisis wasn't something that existed on the land I'm on right now – the land of the Coast Salish people – until 600 years ago. So, what we are addressing is the effects of the use of sexual violence – making our women go missing, making them be murdered. And that is being perpetuated by systems who no longer want our people on this land.

On the work that needs to be done to combat the crisis:  

Echo-Hawk: We have to recognize that this epidemic exists because of the ongoing historical trauma that is happening to our people. And so, when we look at what's happening in the United States – specifically in Congress and then also in states like Washington – we are seeing things in the U.S. Congress right now there are pieces of legislation that have not gone anywhere. Why? When we look at states, we are seeing very token things. For example, in Utah, they passed a bill that created an awareness day of missing and murdered indigenous women. We are aware – add some resources. When we look at what the state of Washington has done, this is the second piece of legislation that they've passed, the first one was create a report. The second one was to give to tribal liaison which was a recognition of feedback that came from our tribal communities. So, we now have two people who are going to address missing and murdered indigenous women in the Washington State Patrol for the whole state. Come on this is a start and that's what we have to see it has. 

On the A Tribe Called Red song “Sisters”:

A Tribe Called Red: That one came out of the fact that we got our pow wow tracks split between drum tracks and acapella tracks and even the men and women we had all the women voices and you know as a way to kind of to talk about the problem of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls want to make a song for my sisters or all indigenous women you know I did as a way to celebrate my sisters.
Echo Hawk: We are so lucky to have such an incredible group of musicians and of artists who are singing those songs for our women because their voices are not present anymore, but they're singing those songs for us. When I listen to that “Sisters” song, that's what I felt when I heard it because I heard those songs of those women who haven't been able to sing and it's being led by those indigenous men who are addressing this epidemic. And so when we hear these songs and we listen to our musicians and our art – whether it be in its most traditional form to its most modern incorporation with traditions, those are the songs being sung so that our voices are not silenced anymore and then our women can again sing in the way that we were meant to always be singing. 

On A Tribe Called Red’s traditional and contemporary influences:

A Tribe Called Red: Indigenous people have never had control of our own image. So, to be able to show ourselves to the rest of the world in the way that we exist today becomes really important and really powerful. We’re always trying to push that idea. You know, there are many layers to our shows. The music, the dancing and the visual – like break dancing and house dancing and things like that as well as pow wow dancers. They'll come out in mixed degrees of regalia and do dance things that are varying degrees of mix between pow wow and break dancing. As well as the visuals, which are misrepresentations of indigenous people through the media that we flip around. In some states, when we're talking to an indigenous audience, it's giving a chance to laugh at these images and take the negativity out of them while also confronting our non-Indigenous audience with this kind of imagery and a situation where they're not necessarily expected to get schooled on racist imagery.

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