For decades, crime and violence against Indigenous people has been a major crisis within the Indigenous community. While crimes continue to rise, the lack of news coverage is stale in comparison to that of White Americans. According to the National Crime Information Center there were 5,295 reports of missing women and girls in 2020 — all of them American Indian and Alaska Natives, yet less than 15% of these cases received television news coverage within their perspective communities. Statistics show that almost 60% of all reported crimes against Indigenous people are homicides, yet a large majority of these crimes go unsolved. Assault, abduction and even murder cases continue to rise and members of the Indigenous community have been forced to advocate and protect themselves due to the lack of support from the authorities and government officials.
Aiyana Jacy Martin, an Indigenous woman is part of the community of individuals using their voice to bring awareness to the cause. All her life, she has been advocating for what she believes is right and fair, whether it's using social media to educate people of political indifferences, planning and executing protests in her school for Black lives or using her prom to make a bold statement. Her latest project combines her passion for modeling with her passion for activism for Indigenous women across the world. The 23 year old Africana and Indigenous Studies major at Buffalo State University is Mohawk, of the Turtle Clan from the Six Nations of the Grand River in Ohsweken, Ontario in Canada. She has found her voice advocating for the Indigenous community speaking on multiple podcasts and radio platforms bringing awareness to the under publicized issue. It's easy to find passion in a cause when it hits home. As a woman of Indigenous heritage, advocating for the rights and protections of Indigenous people has become a huge priority and she is now taking the message on the catwalk. In an interview with Aiyana, we spoke with her about the MMIW movement and the event that she will be hosting on Indigenous People's Day in Buffalo, NY.
What does MMIW stand for? What is the MMIW movement?
MMIW stands for Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women. It is a movement that advocates for the end of violence against Indigenous women. It also draws attention to the alarming rates of disappearances and murders of Native people, particularly women and girls.
Why is this movement special to you?
When I hear statistics related to MMIW such as 4 out of 5 Native women experience violence and 1 in 3 will experience violence and trauma of rape at some point in their life, it hits home. My mother has experienced this, and unfortunately more than once. The trauma and impact this has on our communities is devastating and I want to see it change. When murder is the third leading cause of death for Indigenous women, I am fearful for those I love and care about. It is important and necessary that I am part of the fight to end this.
How long have you been an advocate for MMIW?
I have been passionate about this cause for several years but have been heavily advocating for change this past year. When I was younger I would share information on social media and even used my prom dress to make a statement. For my senior prom, I chose to wear a red dress, the symbol often associated with MMIW because it is believed that red is the color spirits can see. Empty red dresses are meant to symbolize those people who are missing. I decided to do a photo shoot wearing my prom dress, in the woods, with empty red dresses hanging from trees as a visual statement. I also had a handprint painted across my mouth to represent the voices that have been silenced just as much as it represents my inability to be silenced. It was my way of getting my social media followers to become aware of this issue, as so many people honestly have heard nothing about it.
Talk about your fashion show that you will be hosting.
It all happened unexpectedly! Last year I competed in the Miss Buffalo 2023 competition highlighting MMIW as my social impact. After the competition Erie County Legislator, April Baskin had given me her business card and told me to reach out to her because she was interested in my cause. When we spoke we discussed my passion for making change in my community, MMIW, as well as my love for fashion and modeling and the idea was born. The meaning behind this is to make people aware of the issues that Indigenous communities face. We have such little representation in general so I want to highlight Indigenous peoples and the issues that impact us as well as the resilience that we possess.
What can people expect to see at the show?
People can expect to see a mix of traditional Indigenous clothing to more urban outfits at the fashion show. However, the show is titled, "A Walk in Her Shoes" so those attending will learn statistics and hear a poetic journey of how this impacts us. Ultimately, I want the audience to feel like they “walked in her shoes” and feel impacted by the event so that they can share information and become an ally in our fight to end the violence against our people.
How can people support the MMIW movement?
By taking the time to educate themselves further on this topic and share what they learn with others. They can like, comment and share Indigenous accounts and posts. Sometimes these small acts can make a huge impact. The more people are aware of this, and understand the impact it has, the more likely we can begin to see some positive change.
How can people support the fashion show? Come be part of the show! We are looking for volunteers, models, make up artists, hair dressers and fashion designers! More importantly, share the flyer, buy tickets to the show or donate what you can! For more ways to become involved people can reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
You can purchase tickets to the show here