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Waking Women Healing Institute and MIT Map Resources for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People

Coffee, a need for change, and a shared love for geographic information systems (GIS) is what marked the beginning of the momentous partnership between Waking Women Healing Institute's Kristin Welch and MIT Data + Feminism Lab's Catherine D'Ignazio. The two visionaries first crossed paths and realized their synergy in 2021 at Solve at MIT, one of Solve's annual flagship events. Since then, Welch's and D’Ignazio’s teams have collaborated to develop first-of-their-kind tools to increase prevention, response, and healing for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People (MMIW/P) and their families.

Welch is the Founder and Executive Director of the Waking Women Healing Institute (WWHI) and a 2021 Indigenous Communities Fellow. The Fellowship celebrates and supports innovators who leverage traditional knowledge and technology to drive positive impact in Indigenous communities across the United States and Canada. Based in Menominee, Wisconsin, WWHI is an Indigenous women and survivor-led nonprofit with a mission to provide direct services in prevention, response, and healing for Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit survivors of violence. It is estimated that Indigenous women and girls are murdered at a rate 10 times higher than the national average, and 84% will experience acts of violence in their lifetime. Despite being established just four years ago, the WWHI team has launched numerous tools that effectively promote healing and resistance rooted in Indigenous ways of being.

(Kristin Welch on stage with June Sugiyama, Director of Vodafone Americas Foundation, at Solve at MIT)

One of WWHI's early projects addresses the silencing of historical violence against Indigenous women and girls through interactive story maps. The Story Map Project for Healing and Justice for MMIW –– leaning into GIS technology –– serves as a collaborative platform where survivors and families can come together across various regions and jurisdictions to map their experiences. Utilizing traditional tools like storytelling, these virtual spaces aim to highlight the scope of the problem, identify systemic gaps in response mechanisms, and offer a space of healing through a survivor-led approach. 

"As an organization, we wanted to present solutions, not just highlight the problem,” says Welch. She adds, “A big part of that was tackling the silencing and awareness issue by ensuring we had the ability to tell our stories and amplify those stories as families and survivors. The story maps were a natural transition into creating awareness, but in connection to land, which is very important to us as Indigenous people."

(A glimpse of the first story map, Missing and Murdered, from the Story Map Project for Healing and Justice for MMIW)

With the story maps working to increase awareness, Welch was now eager to develop a solution that met the need for response – and she had found the right partner in D’Ignazio. As Director of MIT's Data + Feminism Lab, D’Ignazio specializes in using data and computational methods to work towards racial, gender, and other forms of justice, especially as it relates to space and place. "The work we do is not only about using data to show problems, but it's also about thinking about the ways we can use data, almost as a campfire or a gathering space. This data becomes a space where communities can gather and think about paths forward," D'Ignazio shares.

With the help of MIT students, WWHI and the Data + Feminism Lab officially launched the MMIW/P Resource Map in August of 2023. Grassroots organizations are leading the initiatives to support survivors and oppose violence, but they have lacked a centralized space to organize, collect data, document survivor stories, and create tribal solutions. This innovative and ever-expanding map facilitates the immediate identification of agencies, nonprofits, grassroots initiatives, and other supportive organizations dedicated to aiding MMIW/P families and survivors of violence. The map is available to families and survivors across Turtle Island, otherwise known as North and Central America.

(The MMIW/P Resource Map)
(Welch’s and D’Ignazio’s teams together during an on-site visit in Menominee, Wisconsin)

Welch and D’Ignazio’s work doesn't end here. Following the launch of the MMIW/P Resource Map, the two started working on the next phase of support, which will provide survivors and their families with the means to attain and share case documentation for the acts of violence against them. With only 22% of Native Americans living on tribal lands, many often travel between tribal and state lands. This presents several critical issues involving jurisdictional complications, reporting policies, and coordination between federal, state, and tribal agencies when harmful acts occur. Due to this fragmentation, survivors and families of MMIW/P are often left having to repeatedly recount their painful experiences to authorities in hopes of a response, and as a result, without proper room to heal. The tool aims to remove this burden and, over time, display patterns of failed response and encourage policy change. Welch and D'Ignazio intend to launch the tool and share it with other grassroots organizations soon. 

You can explore the MMIW/P Resource Map and other resources mentioned on the Waking Women Healing Institute's website. The MMIW/P Resource Map is an ongoing collaborative effort to collect and share Indigenous-led and community-based organizations. If you have suggestions for groups that should be on the map, Kristin and Catherine welcome you to reach out at and 

This collaboration was made possible with the creative and technical contributions of many MIT students, including Patricia Garcia Iruegas, Hannah Shumway, Melissa Qingqing Teng, Claudia Tomateo, Julia Camacho, Dení López, Kevin Lujan Lee, Betzabe Valdés, Gus Raymond, Sophia Green, Kathleen Julca, Adi Kuperschmidt, Jonathan Chinen, Yiwen Huang, Sophia Xiao, and Lulu Russell. The MIT team is also grateful to the Indigenous Environmental Planning Course taught by Gabriella Carolini and Larry Susskind for their initial incubation of student work with WWHI.  

If you are interested in supporting Indigenous innovators or sharing solutions for Indigenous communities, get involved.

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2021 Indigenous Communities Fellowship

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Solve at MIT 2021

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