Taté Walker, citizen of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, was once a student at Cherokee Trail Elementary School in Parker, CO.
“This was a time in my life where being Native was a surface-level identifier,” said Walker, who also has Irish heritage and can pass as white. “Kind of like, ‘Hey I’m 10 years old, I love Disney, macaroni and cheese and I’m Lakota.’”
To grow up Indigenous in the U.S. is to endure a kind of erasure that perpetuates historical traumas. Young kids don’t see themselves represented in storybooks or history lessons; older kids feel the jabs of crude and racist sports team mascots.
For too many Indigenous womxn (more on this term below), the erasure is physical. More than four out of five Indigenous womxn have experienced violence in their lifetime, according to a 2016 study funded by the National Institute of Justice. More than half have experienced sexual violence, the same study found, and their attackers were overwhelmingly non-Native.
In some counties, the murder rate of Indigenous womxn is as high as ten times the national average, according to a 2008 report funded by the Department of Justice. An untold number of Indigenous womxn have gone missing or been murdered.
Today, Walker is a storyteller and activist who refers to themselves as “a banner-waving Two Spirit feminist,” whose preferred pronouns are they, them and Mother. They have seized on the opportunity to tell Indigenous stories in rich and complex ways, most recently as a speaker for The Colorado Trust’s Health Equity Learning Series, addressing a racist legacy that continues to enact violence against Indigenous womxn.
(Why womxn? This is the spelling that Walker used, noting that it rejects the use of the word “men” as its root, and is explicitly inclusive of transgender and gender non-conforming as well as cisgender womxn.)
The trauma sometimes takes the form of official indifference or disbelief. When Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, eight months pregnant, disappeared from her home in Fargo, N.D. in August 2017, her parents suspected their upstairs neighbors. But police searched the neighbors’ home, and the deputy police chief said that there was “nothing to suggest criminal activity.” Later, LaFontaine-Greywind’s mutilated body was found in a river; her baby had been cut from her body and was found in the neighbors’ home.
The assaults sometimes take the form of police violence. Indigenous people are more likely to be killed in a police encounter than any other racial or ethnic group, according to a CNN analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The trauma of violence can be passed down to children—even if they haven’t experienced it themselves. Walker volunteered for a rape crisis center in South Dakota, where she remembered talking to an Indigenous mother and daughter about consensual sex. The mother offered that they’d already had that conversation.
Read more on ColoradoTrust.org.