MMIW: Is mainstream media racist?
Mel Rising Dawn Cordeiro
Matoaka, of the Tsenacommacah land of the Powhatan tribe in modern-day Tidewater, Virginia. Savannah LaFontaine-Greywind, 22, of Spirit Lake, North Dakota. Kizzie Arneecher, 14, of the Muscogee Nation. Danielle Lauren Edmo, 16, of Fort Hall Reservation, Idaho. Mona Renee Vallo of the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, Acoma, New Mexico. Jade “Cedar Tree Stands Alone” Wagon, 23 of the Arapaho Nation, Wind River Reservation, Riverton Wyoming.
Do the names of any of these women or children sound familiar? Perhaps they don’t, though there is one famous name among this list (bonus points to those who can figure out who*). There are, however, a few things these women have in common. First and most obvious, is that they are all Native American women. Second and far less obvious, is that they are all deceased. How did they die? Various illnesses, or murder. The third and final commonality is that these women, as well as countless others, were kidnapped from their homes, families and reservations.
These women and children, as well as the subsequent kidnapping and deaths of countless others across the United States and Canada, have sparked a movement called the Missing and Murdered Idegenous Women’s movement. The purpose of this movement is to help find those who have been kidnapped and to help recover the deceased. In 2016, there were a total of 5,712 cases of women and girls missing. The Department of Justice only reported on 116 of these. Records are kept by the tribal offices, as not all cases reported to unaffiliated police are taken seriously. In fact, murder is the third leading cause of death among Native American women, a rate that is about three times higher compared to Anglo-American women.
Why is this not broadcasted in the media? Why do we hear about people such as Gabby Petito, but not women of color? To get a better understanding of the answer to these questions, we must look back to the days of segregation and the Civil Rights Movement, back to a time when broadcast media and television was just beginning- and said industry was dominated by Caucasian people.
Media content was influenced by the writer, as still holds true today. How media is formed, selected and presented is influenced by the opinions of those in the industry, whether it be television, radio, newspaper, etc. Back around 1938, with the beginning of television broadcasting, marketing advertisements were made for specific populations and said advertisements were targeting those populations using images that represented them. For example, Causcaian used products would advertise using Caucasian people and African-American used products would advertise using African-American people.
In early movies such as The Birth of a Nation (1915) and the original Tarzan series (1932), African and African American people were mocked and were represented poorly, often depicted as dangerous or thieves. Caucasian actors wore blackface, sending a strong message that it is okay to make fun of and that the Caucasian race is the preferred race. Why? It is because those who carried the most influence in the industry and had the ability to shape the image of others.
This, in part, is a huge factor contributing to minority peoples having problems with identity. Minority cultures do not know how to tell their own stories because they have been repressed for so long. Cultural identities have become lost, a figment of the Hollywood imagination. One must look no farther than the Native residential school of Canada and America to witness such cultural loss.
*I couldn’t leave you hanging, dear reader. Matoaka is the famous name on the list. She is the first documented stolen sister, the first recorded MMIW. Matoaka was actually her mother’s name, but it was common practice among the Nation to use multiple names. Matoaka, dear reader, is Pocahontas.