I remember not liking this quote at first. I could never quite figure out what it meant, only how it made me feel. Reading it for the first time put a knot in my stomach. The imagery of hearts on the ground was something I never could take literally, though I knew in the history of what our people faced as a result of colonization, it was not impossible. I knew the stories of massacres and raids. But I could also, in my innocence, deduce that phrases and sayings are more often than not a result of the time period and political environment in which they are created—some less literal than others.
I never understood what it meant until my life was touched by violence as a result of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirit (MMIWG2S+) epidemic.
And once you know something, you can never unknow it.
A woman’s heart on the ground, in the more gruesome cases, is literal. But in my experience, comparing this to the immeasurable amount of loss that is felt when a mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, or friend is stolen from us is most accurate. It is a pain that wreaks so much havoc on the body that it feels as though it is our own heart lying about on the ground in front of us.
The pain of loss and grief is not a singular feeling to the Native American woman. The human experience is to love and to lose. But what is uniquely Native about this loss is that it is never just an accident. It is never just “wrong place, wrong time.” The loss of our women is systematic, intergenerational, and a result of the tactics that have been at play since long before I, my mother, and my grandmother were alive.
The tactics of early assimilation targeted our children and our women. Our children are our future, but with no women to carry them and give them life, there is no chance for a future anyway. In the beginning, it was diminishing the traditional roles that women held in Indigenous communities in favor of a Western idea of a woman being submissive, doting, or obedient. It was the assignment of Native women to a white chaperone, which would later turn into arranged marriages. Today, it looks like the sexualization of Native women by the media, human trafficking that is especially prevalent along border towns and roads coming in and out of Tribal lands, and the inability of the justice and alert systems to accurately prevent or mediate the many threats that exist to Native women in the United States.
There can be no path to healing and reconciliation when there are not yet standards in place to actively prevent cases from escalating in the first place. Save Our Sisters, in its implementation, would not only be monumental in terms of what it enables law enforcement and search teams to achieve, but also because it relies so heavily and earnestly on the idea that every missing woman is a relative, community member, and sister to us all.
One of my most highly regarded teachings tells me that, yes, creation is innate in us all. But creation exists outside the realms of just art and life. It is our ability to reimagine and create futures for ourselves and our communities. Futures exist in which 84 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native women don’t face violence in their lives. It is a future that is possible when we dedicate ourselves to pushing legislation that can make real, sustainable impacts for our communities.