Why Are Native American Women Painting Red Handprints On Their Mouth?

There is a hidden epidemic looming in North America that continues to be ignored. The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) have been an alarming cause for concern, with violence against them being exponentially higher.

Tanya Savkoor
New Update
missing and murdered indigenous women red handprint

Image: Getty Images

There is a hidden epidemic looming in North America that even though affects such a large number of people, continues to be ignored. The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) have been an alarming cause for concern since colonisation, with violence against Native American women being exponentially higher than violence against anybody else on the continent. However, the voices of these marginalised women go unheard or silenced. In a bid to show solidarity with these Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Native American women and supporters are donning a red handprint painted on their mouth, as a symbol of their silenced voices.


Apart from red handprint has become a movement to highlight how Native American women are disproportionately affected by violence. The origin of this handprint dates back to 2019 when athlete Jordan Marie Daniel made an appearance at the Boston Marathon with the handprint on her mouth. Daniel is part of the Kul Wicasa Oyate community, more commonly known as the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe. Ever since, thousands of Native American women including celebrities have made a statement with this symbol, conveying that no more explanation is needed for the staggering rates of violence against women that go ignored.

MMIW Deserves Attention

The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women movement seeks to draw attention to the high rates of disappearances and murders of Native American people, particularly women and girls. Data states that 4 out of 5 Native women have experienced violence, making them twice as likely than other American women to endure violence. 

The Bureau of Indian Affairs of the United States reports that murders, rapes, and other violent crimes against Native American women are all 10 times higher than the national average. Native American women are murdered 3 times more than other American women.

“Bad people commit these horrible crimes against Native women, but it is the system that allows it to happen generation after generation," said Malinda Limberhand, mother of Hanna Harris who was murdered in 2013 on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation.

In 2020, CBC News reported on the case of Michelle Buckley of Hay River, who wore the red handprint in a photo shoot to honour her sister Rea, who died when she was 14. Buckley stated the aim of the photo shoot was "to raise awareness that missing and murdered Indigenous women is an issue that Indigenous people face, but it also was a form of healing".


The MMIW has been a movement for generations, attempting to bring the adversities of Native American women to light.  But only recently, especially since the red handprint movement and social media, has the movement been gaining more momentum.

Recent Developments in MMIW

The State of Arizona has the third largest Native American population in the US. Governor Katie Hobbs created a task force in May this year in the State. The task force is expected to deliver its first report on December 1, which will include legislative suggestions to mitigate violence against Indigenous people.

In October 2020, a Not Invisible Act Commission, an advisory committee composed of survivors, law enforcement, tribal leaders, federal partners, and service providers was formed. Earlier this month, the Commission delivered a recommendation to the Congress, which the Congress is expected to give a response to within 90 days. In cities like New Mexico and the Navajo Nation, where the indigenous population are high, data on the rates of crimes and missing Native American women were collected only last year.

Mural Maddie Lamb. Credit: WeRNative

On November 28, New Mexico Governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham announced that the State is on the way to propose an advisory council whose responsibility would be to respond to cases of Missing or Murdered Indigenous Women. In mid-October, Governor Grisham had silently ended a task force created to find solutions to the MMIW, after the group hadn’t met since May.

The task force remained dormant as the members publicly opposed the nomination of James R. Mountain, who has a rape charge against him, to lead the Indian Affairs Department, which housed the task force. “We were really making some great headway,”  said Cheryl Yazzie (Diné), one of several task force members who believes the group’s work had just begun. “We just seem to have kind of stalled, ran out of gas.”

Although these task forces and commissions have been put into place, advocates state that there is still not enough data or reports on the rates of violence against Native American women. Some US States still do not have a systematic organisation to cater to the needs and safety of Native American women, and their situation continues to go unseen and unheard.

Indigenous Women Missing tribal mmiw missing and murdered native americans Native American Women