(OMTimes | Liane Buck) Rosalie Fish is an 18-year-old Native American competitive runner who became the face of awareness for Native American women nationwide and a symbol of international struggle, raising awareness for missing and murdered indigenous women (MMIW). Indigenous women are murdered at a rate 10 times higher than other ethnicities and it is the third leading cause of death of Native American women.
An Interview with Rosalie Fish – Running for MMIW
Interview by Liane Buck
Rosalie Fish is an 18-year-old member of the Cowlitz Tribe and a competitive runner from the Muckleshoot Reservation in Auburn, Washington. She graduated this year from the Muckleshoot Tribal School, where she represented her school in the Class 1B Washington State Track Meet, earned three gold medals, a silver, and a sportsmanship award, and used that platform to raise awareness for missing and murdered indigenous women (MMIW). Her passions include running, youth empowerment, indigenous visibility, upholding and practicing native traditions, as well as uplifting and advocating for native communities and native women. She is excited to share her work on MMIW with the TedXYouth @ Seattle community because, according to the Urban Indian Health Institute, Seattle leads the nation in MMIW cases. Recruited for her running ability and proven leadership Rosalie will attend Iowa Central Community College in the fall where she will continue her athletic career and her activism for MMIW.
OMTimes was Grateful to catch up with Rosalie Fish (figuratively, not literally – she is too fast), the Native American activist bringing awareness of the missing and murdered indigenous women (MMIW) to the nation.
OMTIMES: Rosalie, you became the face of awareness for Native American women nationwide and a symbol of international struggle. What motivated you to step up and bring awareness to the front stage?
ROSALIE FISH: As a Native American, my own existence and the existence of my community are perceived as political. My ancestors and my grandparents are survivors of genocide and boarding school violence. I was born into a family and a community of activists, and therefore I was always aware of the various socio-political challenges Indian Country faced. It was Jordan Marie Daniel who made me realize that I could take my beliefs and my passions further than pipeline protests and conferences- Jordan showed me I could use my platform as an athlete to expose non-Natives to the issues of neglect that Indigenous women face. Jordan showed me that I can demand acknowledgment by putting my feet on the ground and racing.
OMTIMES: What the Red Hand means, and are you the first person using this symbol?
ROSALIE FISH: The red handprint painted over our mouths is a symbolic representation of the Indigenous women that have been silenced through violence. Indigenous women activists have utilized the red handprint for generations. However, I was first exposed to the handprint by Boston Marathon Runner Jordan Marie Daniel. Jordan is from the Lakota Tribe and ran with the red handprint and “MMIW” painted on her body during her 26.2-mile national race.
OMTIMES: Why are Native American women vanishing? What do you think people should learn about the plight of Native American women here, and worldwide?
ROSALIE FISH: The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women epidemic is an epidemic that has occurred for centuries. One factor that makes Native women especially vulnerable to violence is encompassed by the intersectional experience these women face. Many of the women and girls being affected are already living difficult lives. Native women and girls are exponentially vulnerable to violence through a lack of Indigenous acknowledgment and stereotypes. Indigenous women are in situations where factors such as poverty, domestic violence, different levels of ability, and trauma are present. When an Indigenous woman is attacked or goes missing, there is little to no accountability when the local police refuse to act on the case. Local police forces found it completely acceptable to wait extensive periods before beginning to look for the missing woman, or assuming that missing woman was under the influence of drugs/alcohol, or even refusing to file an official missing person report. It is the violent situations of historical trauma that Indigenous women are surrounded by, paired with the prejudice and stereotyping from local police that makes this epidemic extremely dangerous.
OMTIMES: Why do you think other young people like yourself didn’t step up as you did? We see a tendency for silence and resignation from other older generations of the Native American Community. Do you think your generation is silent because it is also feeling hopeless? Or is silence a coping skill?
ROSALIE FISH: I personally believe this generation is a generation of unapologetic resilience. My great grandparents are survivors of residential boarding schools. Multiple lifetimes of trauma were inflicted upon our elders that are still here today. These elders were expected as children to “get over” their traumatic experiences and live healthy, functioning lives. This is an expectation that is unrealistic for anyone who would have endured the physical, sexual, and psychological violence of boarding schools. Our generations of elders may understandably not have had the strength and the courage to stand up toward their oppressors. In this age of technology and social media platforms, it is much easier to spread word freely. I believe it is a combination of healing and opportunity that allows Indigenous youth today to speak out upon the issues that have been affecting our communities and families for generations.
OMTIMES: What should the government be doing to assist the Native American communities, especially girls and women? What do you think that ordinary people outside of the Native American communities can do to help?
ROSALIE FISH: Government agencies such as city and state police departments need to be held accountable in their role in collecting and taking action on the cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. While the Urban Indian Health Institute identified 5,712 cases of women and girls, only 116 were logged into the Department of Justice Database. This means that when cases are reported, not only are they neglected from the action, but the cases are not even being recorded for research purposes. It took the research and investigation of an Indigenous-oriented institute to explore and discover the actual amount of cases that are spread across Indigenous communities.
OMTIMES: Have you felt a difference in your community and seen awareness of in response to the violence, after you spoke out and started the conversation about the issue of violence against Native American women?
ROSALIE FISH: I have absolutely noticed a difference in the amount of visibility MMIW has in Indigenous communities as well as the dominant culture. Various conversations have sparked regarding MMIW due to the efforts of Indigenous athletes, artists, activists, educators, students, and government officials.
OMTIMES: How do you think Indigenous women can heal and go back to their rightful place in their communities and society without the fear of being sexually abused, assaulted, trafficked, and killed?
ROSALIE FISH: Indigenous women, like all Native people, are extremely vulnerable to trauma. Native women who have intersectional experiences like low income, adaptive-abilities, and/or LGBTQ are more likely to personally endure the systematic discrimination that comes with identifying in multiple minority groups. These women and their experiences can often make them more invisible to dominant cultures. Tribal communities that have the resources to fund domestic violence shelters, substance abuse recovery centers, economic/career opportunities, girls’ homes, and trauma-informed psychological care for tribal members will create safe spaces for Indigenous women and girls to heal and find pathways to healing.
OMTIMES: Why are Native American women and girls viewed differently, even from other minorities? How can we change this perception? In your opinion, what do you think can be done to restore and empower Native women?
ROSALIE FISH: As a race, Native people endure a wide variety of fetishization, tokenism, and casual racism that other races do not necessarily experience. When larger, non-Native communities participate in things such as dressing up as an “Indian” for Halloween, celebrating with “Indian” sports mascots, and excluding Indigenous history in education, it contributes to the erasure of Indigenous people. These are examples of the methods used to illustrate Native people as historical, or no longer present or active. Indigenous women are targeted in this by being especially sexualized. We change these perceptions by demanding respectful and accurate media and academic representation.
OMTIMES: Is there a connection, like there is in Canada, between the child welfare system and the epidemic of missing Indigenous women? Do you think that our system purposely contributes to the vulnerability of these women?
ROSALIE FISH: Indigenous children make up less than 1% of the U.S. population yet account for 2.1% of children in foster care. The Indian Child Welfare Act ensures that the child’s tribe gets exclusive jurisdiction over the placement of the child. This lowers the chances of a child experiencing a cultural disconnect. In Canada, however, there is no Indian Child Welfare Act, which allows for Indigenous children to be displaced in non-Native communities and therefore lose their ties to their heritage and their culture.
OMTIMES: In Canada, there is a national inquiry about the disappearance and murder of Indigenous women. Although that is not enough by itself, it is a step towards bringing healing to the families. The inquiry examined the systematic causes of violence against indigenous women and girls made recommendations on how to make them safe, but it has yet to become a national plan of action. You have inspired so many with your voice, have other activists reached out to you to expand your voice and action to bring justice for these women?
ROSALIE FISH: I have been reached out to by a large amount of other Indigenous women and activists that are also using their voices and platforms to advocate for change. Just as I was empowered by marathon runner Jordan Marie Daniel, young athletes have since seen my example and have taken it into their own hands to raise awareness in their areas. As Indigenous people, our strength and courage inspire one another. We have created an influential cycle that will not lose momentum.
OMTIMES: Do you think we should have a similar initiative here in the USA? What would you expect from such a program? Why do you think we don’t have one yet?
ROSALIE FISH: The U.S. does have other protections in place that Canada does not, for example, the Indian Child Welfare Act. For the U.S., what needs to be addressed is the effect jurisdiction that discludes Indigenous women who live in urban areas and experience sexual assault from protective legislation. There also needs to be a level of accountability put into place for the various state and city police departments that neglect the cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women that are reported.
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