While designated awareness months and days honoring Black or women’s history or Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage have become ubiqutious, chef Andrea Murdoch says there’s one in May that’s often forgotten: National Awareness Day for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIW) on May 5. Murdoch—the owner of four-year-old Four Directions Cuisine, a catering company focused on Indigenous fare—is a native of the Venezuelan Andes who moved to the United States when she was three years old. Here, she shares what the day means to her and what Coloradans can do to help individuals and communities affected by the abduction and murder of Indigenous women.

Note: The following contains content that may be triggering to some audiences. The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

5280: What do you wish people knew about what’s happening in Indigenous communities?
Andrea Murdoch: One of the hardest-hitting statistics I readily share with people is that murder is the third-leading cause of death in Indigenous women, and abductions are wildly under-recorded. In 2018, the Urban Indian Health Institute and Sovereign Bodies Institute released a report compiled from 71 urban U.S. cities citing that 5,712 reports of missing American Indian and Alaskan Native women and girls were filed—but only 116 were logged into the Federal Bureau of Investigations’ missing persons database. That’s only two percent of reported cases that were actually recorded into the database.

Why do you think there isn’t more awareness around the topic of violence toward women in Indigenous communities?
Some of the primary comments and questions I hear when discussing the issue of violence against Indigenous women in non-Indigeous spaces is: I’ve never heard of National Awareness Day for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls—so is it really that bad? I’m sure if it’s being reported, the authorities will do something. The answer is yes, it is that bad; but no, the authorities are not doing anything about the issue. There is a fear of reporting assaults in our communities because law enforcement was not designed to protect us and [the statistics] show that time and time again. 

As an Indigenous woman, I also personally didn’t report any of my own assaults by men and women for fear of being blamed or simply dismissed by law enforcement officials. I hadn’t heard or seen many examples to prove that they would protect me. The morning after one of my attacks, I remember thinking, It wasn’t that bad right? I can’t report this assault because I did manage to get away before it went too far…It used to infuriate me that as a brown woman, I felt like I couldn’t report a time when a white woman friend crawled into my lap and groped me while I was driving. Being that I was the sober driver and she was well over the legal limit, I felt like I would have been treated like the perpetrator. After all, I was an Indigenous woman living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and the white woman in my car was fuzzy on the details of the previous night, so it must not have happened.

What is the correlation between violence against Indigenous women, land, and food in the Four Corners regions, which encompasses the southwest corner of Colorado and parts of Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico?
Living in one of the Four Corner states has been quite the education for me. The Four Corners region is prime real estate for extraction of natural resources. It is also home to several tribal nations, including the Dinè people. Due to the secluded nature of both the reservations and these male-dominated extraction sites/camps, there is a high rate of Indigenous women and girls who are abducted, abused, sold, and murdered. These extraction sites and practices [are also] detrimental to the environment and our food and water systems…The dependence of communities on commodity foods, which are distributed via government programs on reservations, are damaging to our bodies as opposed to the nutrient-dense nature of the traditional foods that sustain and strengthen our bodies.

What inspires you to raise awareness about these issues through Four Directions Cuisine?
My skill set and gift is the ability to tell stories through food. The more I connect and work within Indigenous communities, the more I want to learn and contribute. I regularly ask myself: How can I help improve food sovereignty and access? What do I learn next and from whom? How do I share the knowledge that has been passed on to me in a way that honors the Indigenous communities from which they came? I ask these questions and more because I want to continue building on the foundation that other activists left for me. One day I will be an ancestor, and generations of relatives in the natural world will have to live with the progress I did or did not make.

What do you want readers to take away from your story and activism and how can they help raise awareness?
I hope you now feel a pull to educate yourself about the Original Peoples of these lands. A few groups and organizations to follow and contribute funds include the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, Denver Indian Health and Family Services, and Stronghold Society. You can also tune into the All My Relations and Toasted Sister podcasts and the Indigenous Food room within the Food is Religion club (available via the Clubhouse app). A few publications to add to your reading list include Braiding Sweetgrass and blog posts by Indigenous Goddess Gang

The Indigenous Peoples of the Americas have rich and beautiful cultures. Admire them rather than appropriating them. Respect our sovereign nations, peoples, and bodies. Learn how to be an ally. Although the government designation and acronym of MMIW references women and girls, our two-spirit, transgender, and non-binary relatives are included. These relatives must also be recognized, honored, and protected.

This Saturday, May 7, Murdoch will host her annual Warrior Goddess dinner at SAME Café on Colfax, which will raise awareness for MMIW and benefit the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, which works to end violence against American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian women through strengthening tribal sovereignty. Tickets cost $125 (a limited number are available for $62.50, priced to be more accessible for community members); seatings are available at 4 p.m  and 6:30 p.m. Buy your tickets here.

You can also buy hats to support Murdoch’s efforts and look for her book titled #BringThemHome, about the abduction of Indigenous children, which will be released late May; 14 percent of book sales will be donated to the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition.