JANESVILLE

Janeile Luebke dedicated her Zoom talk Thursday night to two Native American women who were killed this year.

They are Stephanie Greenspon of Green Bay, whose body was found in a burned car on the Menominee Indian Reservation, and Kozee Decorah, who was killed in Nebraska.

Those women are among thousands of American Indian women who have been murdered or have disappeared over the decades with little notice from the general public, Luebke told the audience of about 50 who listened through a program set up by the Hedberg Public Library.

That number of missing includes runaways, and many of the women were found, but this shows how big the problem is, Luebke said.

The Sovereign Bodies Institute estimates 25,000 Native American women have been murdered since the 1900s, Luebke said.

Luebke, who recently was awarded her doctorate from UW-Milwaukee, where she studied intimate-partner violence against Native American women, said violence against these women is higher than in any other racially defined group.

The National Crime Information Center reported 5,712 missing American Indian and Alaskan native women and girls in 2016, said Luebke, who is a member of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians and a post-doctoral nurse research associate at UW-Madison.

Luebke matter-of-factly led her audience through a history of Native Americans, detailing white conquest, laws and attitudes that led to a loss of traditional social structures for Native Americans.

One of many of those influences were the boarding schools where students were forbidden to speak their own languages and were cut off from traditional society, and where sexual and other abuse were common, Luebke noted.

Those children went on to parent without traditional knowledge, leading to succeeding generations of Native Americans who didn’t know how to be parents, Luebke said.

Luebke’s own great-great aunt was sent from northern Wisconsin to the most well known of these schools in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, she said.

In historical and modern times, mines and pipeline projects have led to thousands of white workers relocating to “man camps” near reservations, where sexual assault and trafficking of native women were too often the result, Luebke said.

Another problem was the fact that the federal government for many decades kept tribal police and courts from seeking justice for their members who were assaulted by whites on reservations.

In traditional societies, “women were and still are considered very sacred givers of life, very valued and cherished,” Luebke said. “Women held high positions of power, fought alongside men in battle, were part of peacekeeping.”

Colonial powers starting with Columbus perpetrated rape and trafficking of native women, something that continues to this day, Luebke said.

The problem has become better known to the general public in recent years, Luebke said.

A large reminder of the missing and murdered indigenous women movement can be seen in Janesville. The red shawl worn by the Native American women depicted in Jeff Henriquez’s mural on North Main Street is a symbol of the movement, said Billy Bob Grahn, a Janesvillian, a member of the Bad River Chippewa and the uncle of Luebke.

Luebke welcomed white allies to the fight against the problem, but she said: “This work really has to be indigenous-led. We have to lead the movement to heal our people.”

The coronavirus pandemic has led to an increase of sexual violence against all women, Luebke said, and services to survivors are more limited because of the pandemic.

“We do have women who are in need and may not be able get it right now, so that’s very distressing,” she said.

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