By Jaelon Jackson
School of Social Work
Usually when you hear the word thesis, often we think about graduate students but that is not the case this time.
Stephen Silva-Brave is an undergraduate social work student completing a thesis addressing the alarming issue of missing and murdered Indigenous relatives.
Silva-Brave's journey into this research topic began unexpectedly. "I got into this research kind of by accident," he explained. "It wasn't something I initially envisioned doing."
What started as a passion project would later evolve into a significant undertaking, inspired by a profound commitment to making a difference.
The research focus was inspired by Silva-Brave's involvement with the movement for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives.
Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives advocate for the end of violence against Native people and draws awareness to high rates of disappearances and murders, particularly of Native women and girls.
These initiatives have sprouted across the United States and Canada, seeking to raise awareness, allocate resources, and actively address the crisis.
As a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, with dual citizenship in the United States and the Lakota Nation, Silva-Brave has a deeply personal connection to the issue. He shared that one of his uncles is currently missing, emphasizing these situations are unfortunately more common in Native American communities compared to other demographics.
"It's a problem everywhere," Silva-Brave said. "People go missing, get murdered, get kidnapped, and their families often remain in the dark. For some reason, it happens to us at a disproportionate rate."
Silva-Brave's commitment to addressing this crisis led to his involvement with MMIR groups. These groups, often led by women, play a pivotal role in advocating for affected families and working with law enforcement to find solutions. "I was already involved in that," Silva-Brave explained, "so I incorporated it into one of the papers that I wrote for Dr. LaBrenz."
"Stephen's work was already making a significant impact before we even decided to expand it. His commitment to this research was evident from the very beginning, and I saw the potential for it to create real change," Dr. Catherine LaBrenz, social work assistant professor, said.
The turning point came when Dr. LaBrenz encouraged Silva-Brave to expand his research and take it to the next level. Silva-Brave recalled, "I was thinking, you know, this would sound cool but maybe when I'm getting my master's." However, the idea of making an impact on this issue pulled him in sooner than expected.
Reflecting on his journey into research as an undergraduate, Silva says it was a life-changing experience. "I never thought of myself as someone who would be able to do research," he said. "But the fact that this was something that I felt like was actually going to make a difference... it meant everything to me."
Dr. LaBrenz says Silva-Brave encourages other undergraduate students interested in pursuing research. LaBrenz says students interested in research should consider three things. First, the research topic should be something they are passionate about. Second, they should find a supportive mentor or professor who can guide them through the process. Finally, they need to be prepared for the commitment and dedication required.
Silva-Brave's research project is shining a light on the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous relatives and has the potential to make a lasting impact on an issue that has long gone underrepresented.
Silva-Brave says he will apply to the school’s Master of Social Work program after completing his Bachelor of Social Work degree this semester.