These Haunting Red Dresses Memorialize Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women
May 7, 2021
On a steel-gray winter day, the red dresses each hung, flapping in the wind along the plaza surrounding the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian-35 of them-in different shapes, sizes and shades. They serve as stand-ins for the potentially thousands of native women who go missing or are murdered each year. There is no definitive tally due to the tangled nature of jurisprudence in and around Indian Country. Law enforcement and sometimes the general public are indifferent. And resources to more fully document the fates of these women is lacking.
Native women are disproportionately affected by violence. A 2016 study by the National Institute of Justice estimated that 84 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced violence in their lifetime compared to 71 percent of non-Hispanic white women.
In 2016, 5,712 American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls were reported missing, which is likely the tip of the iceberg, since only 116 were officially recorded in the U.S. Department of Justice's missing persons database, according to a 2018 study by the Urban Indian Health Institute, a division of the Seattle Indian Health Board.