As a survivor of domestic violence, Betty—a Puyallup tribal member—says she’s had her life threatened so many times she’s lost count.
For years, she’s lived with the fear of being stalked, the pain of being isolated, and the threat of losing her life. She even left her own reservation and started over in a different state to be free from harm.
“I am not a victim, I am a survivor,” Betty said. “I didn’t choose to be violated and abused. Abusers targeted me. We must reconsider the way that we think and treat our survivors.”
Eighty four percent of Native women experience violence in their lifetime. Betty is one of them. On Thursday, May 2, she shared her story before the Board of County Commissioners as the County declared May 5 Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Day of Awareness.
“It's meaningful,” Commissioner Susheela Jayapal said. “It is meaningful for us and I hope for you, as well. It is a step toward bringing those missing voices back to the places they belong, where they have always belonged.”
Portland is home to the ninth largest urban Native population in the country. For Native women, the statistics are sobering: Native American and Alaskan Native women are more than twice as likely to be assaulted than white women and twice as likely to be stalked. One in three are raped in their lifetime. Murder is the third leading cause of death.
The Chair’s FY 2020 Budget includes investments toward supporting women and girls facing abuse. The investments will raise awareness and provide training to help frontline County staff better identify American Indian and Alaskan Native women and girls who are at risk of abuse.
“Violence against women has undoubtedly touched, changed, and ruined far too many lives,” Chair Deborah Kafoury said. “These women and girls are our mothers, our aunts, our sisters, daughters, and our friends, and it is time that we invest in education for those of us who live with, work with, and care about these women and girls.”
The proclamation shed light on the troubling history of violence and abuse toward indigenous women and girls, and the work happening in Multnomah County to protect survivors. Panelists delivered testimony on current research into the history of colonization, correcting the historical impacts of governmental decisions on tribal members, and what it means to be an indigenous woman today.
Ei-Sha Pirtle-Wright is a 15-year-old member of the Siletz Tribe and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, who was also adopted into the Klamath tribes. She told the Board about what the proclamation means to her.
As an indigenous girl, Wright says she remembers telling her mom that, if she did ever go missing, she didn’t run away and she didn’t go without a fight. Being a girl is hard, she said, but being an indigenous girl is harder.
“No teenage girl should ever have to go through that,” she said. “Our sisters and brothers who are going missing, their lives matter. Their stories matter. Their families won’t stop until they receive the closure and that justice.”
Commissioner Sharon Meieran said she was left without words after hearing the speakers deliver their testimony.
“I want to make comments but I’m virtually speechless,” Commissioner Meieran said. “It's painful to hear the facts and the shocking numbers of Native women who have been assaulted and raped and murdered and are missing.”
Celebrating the proclamation, Chair Kafoury acknowledged that more must be done to protect indigenous women and girls. The County’s most recent investments, she said, are just the beginning.
“We know what needs to be done and the way we learn what needs to be done is listen to the people who are heard,” Chair Kafoury said. “I think Multnomah County is embarking on a new focus and new calling and we are committed to this work. I think this proclamation today and the dollars in the budget are merely a start.”