People who shared Instagram stories memorializing missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG) on a day meant to raise awareness of the high level of violence Indigenous women face were surprised to see their stories vanish without explanation.
Instagram stories were shared and re-shared across the platform on May 5, the National Day of Awareness of MMIWG and Red Dress Day, all carrying the #MMIWG hashtag. But the following morning, many Instagram users logged in to see “this story is no longer available” in place of their stories.
Artist Chief Lady Bird had shared a post and story of the artwork she’d created of Patience Commanda, a youth from King’s community of Chippewas of Rama First Nation, shown in a red jingle dress with a red handprint across her mouth. The post remained, but the story had vanished.
Many of Chief Lady Bird’s followers had shared the post in their stories, including Schitt’s Creek co-creator and star Dan Levy. The artist said that while her stories disappeared, Levy’s Instagram story of her post remained.
“It feels like it was very targeted,” said Chief Lady Bird. “Someone like Dan who’s a celebrity and who’s white was just exempt from that. We don’t get the type of exposure that non-Indigenous people do.”
A spokesperson from Facebook, which owns Instagram, told VICE World News, on May 6 “This is a widespread global technical issue not related to any particular topic and we’re fixing it right now.”
It later apologized on Twitter. “We’ve now fixed this issue. It impacted many Stories containing re-shared posts created yesterday and early this morning, plus Highlights + Archive more broadly. We’re sorry to all impacted, especially those raising awareness for important causes globally.”
While stories didn’t return, Chief Lady Bird says her highlighted stories returned.
Many other related MMIWG Instagram stories, including some stories about non-binary and Black Indigenous folks experiencing violence, also disappeared.
Influencer and yoga instructor Shayla Oullette Stonechild, who is Metis and Nehiyaw Iskwew (Plains Cree Woman) from Muscowpetung First Nations, woke up at 5 a.m. on Thursday and noticed her behind-the-scenes shot with designer Lesley Hampton remained on her Instagram story—but her reposts of other Indigenous influencers and activists had been removed.
Initially thinking it was a glitch affecting only her account, she began noticing that other people’s stories weren’t available. She posted a poll asking if this happened to other people and 800 people responded that their MMIWG posts were down.
She then made an Instagram post stating, “Social media is silencing Indigenous voices. This is erasure of our voices on Indigenous lives. This is perpetuating continued violence and genocide against Indigenous women.”
It was reposted 6,600 times.
However, when Stonechild opened up her Instagram on Friday, Instagram had pulled the post down too, because it contained hate symbols and hate speech, she said. She immediately fought the removal, and an hour and a half later, it returned to her feed.
She said the censorship feels like a continuation of the discrimination against Indigenous women that started with the the Indian Act. “It’s interesting to see how history repeats itself, and now on social media they’re still trying to silence Indigenous women; they’re still showing us that they don’t give a fuck about our lives.”
Melina Laboucan-Massimo said the removal of the story about her younger sister, Bella Laboucan-McLean, was like being “stabbed in the heart.” Laboucan-McLean died in 2013 after moving to Toronto from Sturgeon Lake, Alberta, to study fashion arts; her death remains unsolved.
“Even though it was a horrible day I didn’t feel alone. I felt seen and I felt heard. And then to wake up the next morning and just see everything that I put out into the world deleted… It felt like censorship, like my sister’s story wasn’t appropriate for the white gaze… That nobody wants to share the suffering, that the pain that we go through as family members and Indigenous bodies that died at the hand of violent acts is unimportant.”
Jordan Marie Daniel, who runs both the @nativein_LA and her organization @rising_hearts accounts, said about 80 percent of her MMIWG-related stories disappeared on May 6.
Daniel says that so much work and organizing goes into May 5, chosen to honour the birthday of Hanna Harris, the Northern Cheyenne woman who disappeared and died in 2013 in Montana. “I immediately felt so heartbroken and disheartened because so much work went into that day.”
Instead of decompressing on May 6, she said she and other organizers instead went to work reaching out to families and advocates to talk about how the missing Instagram stories made them feel.
“This is just erasure at its finest of suppressing Indigenous voices and really perpetuating the invisibility of Indigenous peoples,” said Daniel.
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