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A Sioux City workshop aims to combat violence against Indigenous women

At a Sioux City march in May, residents hold up signs saying 'No More MMIW Stolen Sisters'. The protest was to call attention to the public health crisis of violence against Indigenous women.
Kendall Crawford
/
IPR
At a Sioux City march in May, residents call attention to the public health crisis of violence against Indigenous women. A new Great Plains Action workshop will aim to combat the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

A new resource to address the public health crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women (MMIW) is launching in Sioux City this weekend.

The Great Plains Action Society is offering a series of workshops on how to heal, protect and organize against gender-based violence. The classes will focus on providing a combination of self defense lessons and culturally focused methods of healing.

“The overall goal is just to inspire our own Indigenous communities to provide the answers for ourselves,” said Trisha Etringer, director of operations at Great Plains Action Society. “But first, we have to heal ourselves. Without healing, there is no justice.”

More than 80 percent of Indigenous women experience violence in their lifetimes, according to a 2016 report from the National Institute of Justice. In 2019, homicide was the third leading cause of death among Indigenous girls aged 15 to 19 and women aged 20 to 24, according to the National Congress of American Indians.

It’s a nationwide crisis, with impacts being felt in Iowa.

Etringer said families in the Sioux City area have begun to come together to share their own experiences with losing relatives to the MMIW crisis. This summer, residents came together to call attention to the loss of Terri McCauley – whose 1983 murder remains unsolved by local law enforcement.

Two Indigenous women stand holding signs at a 2022 march for MMIW. One sign shows the face of Terri McCauley, whose 1983 murder remains unsolved. The sign reads 'Justice for All!'
Kendall Crawford
/
IPR
Terri McCauley's murder in 1983 remains unsolved by local police. In May, Sioux City residents marched in her honor.

She said she hopes the workshop can act as a safe space where the community can address the impact these losses have had on local tribes, and learn to organize politically around the issue.

“It’s about building power within our own communities and taking back our narrative, basically,” Etringer said.

Monica Good Dawn signed up to attend the workshop because of her own experience of losing Indigenous loved ones to violence. She said that she hopes to find a community to heal with.

“It's not just a crisis. It's a prolonged environment of grief and mourning within our communities,” Good Dawn said. “That, unfortunately, until we have the awareness outside of our communities, just doesn't have an end in sight.”

Empowering Native women and girls 

The sessions will include training on sex trafficking prevention, healthy relationships, consent, healing justice, organizing and, finally, self defense.

“It’s about building power within our own communities and taking back our narrative, basically.”
Trisha Etringer, director of operations at Great Plains Action Society

Etringer said teaching Native women how to protect themselves against violence is an important tool of empowerment.

“Being able to defend ourselves and say, ‘No, I'm not going to put up with that. I'm not going to be another statistic. I'm not going to let gender based violence take my life,’” she said.

Good Dawn said she’s grateful for the opportunity to undergo another self defense course. She said she’s faced the threat of violence in the past without the knowledge of how to protect herself.

“Being able to look back at those times when I was the one having to fight for my life, I was the one having to protect myself and get myself out of those situations,” she said.

The workshop will culminate in a graduation for the up to ten women who can participate in the cohort. In the future, Etringer said she wants to offer the workshop on the Winnebago and Omaha reservations.

Kendall is Iowa Public Radio’s western Iowa reporter based in Sioux City, IA.