Advocates and Native Americans gathered Wednesday in Springfield’s Heron Park to honor missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
In the fading glow of a late afternoon sun, a dozen readers or song bearers greeted a crowd of roughly 40 people, in a park where red dresses and other garments hung from the branches of trees. Throughout the night, tears were shed and hugs exchanged, and a small setting with a blanket and pouches of tobacco was set up in honor of Indigenous victims.
Participants in Wednesday’s event brought the red dresses to a blanket and chair setting, intended to honor MMIW/MMIG victims. A basket of tobacco-filled pouches and a rawhided drum also complemented the arrangement.
Stacia Henry, a Paiute Indian from the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe located in Nixon, Nevada, gave a healing song before poems were shared, the presenters and audience moving from one tree to another during the roughly 45-minute presentation. The poems were largely about relatives and friends lost to violence or abduction, though others touched on racial disparities in housing or the importance of ceremony.
Co-organizer Marta Clifford is a Grand Ronde tribal member. She worked with students from the University of Oregon and Lane Community College on the ceremony.
“Our voices have power,” Clifford told KLCC. “And we spoke to the people that are missing and murdered, and we know they heard us. So that’s what I want the students to take away, that their voices matter, they made a difference tonight.”
The event hit home for Megan Van Pelt, a UO junior from the Umatilla Indian Reservation.
“I know too many aunties and too many cousins, I know too many of my friends who’ve gone through sexual assault, and I guess today’s making space for ourselves,” she said, holding back tears. “And we are here for our lost sisters, our lost cousins.”
Clifford spoke to President Biden’s appointment of Deb Haaland as the Secretary of U.S. Interior Department as a positive development in the MMIW/MMIG/MMIP issue.
“Deb’s always been on the missing and murdered Indigenous cases,” said Clifford. “We’re happy to see some of the initiatives she’s made on that.”
Haaland – an enrolled member of the Laguna Pueblo Tribe and the first Native American to head the federal department – created a Missing and Murdered Unit within the Bureau of Indian Affairs Office of Justice Services in April 2021, with the intent to improve investigations and outcomes.
More recently, the possible overturn of Roe vs. Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court has weighed heavily on women’s rights groups and supporters. This included participants at the MMIW observance.
Samantha Fernandez is a first-year student at UO, and is of Klamath descent. She says losing abortion rights and access at the federal level would be harsh on an already suffering group, that’s seen inconsistent health care and disproportionate rates of sexual assault and domestic violence.
“For tribal people everywhere, it’s difficult,” said Fernandez. “And they’re going to have to seek refuge in other states and it’s just going to make them more vulnerable. It’s just going to put them in an even tougher position and being able to protect themselves and speak out for themselves without facing any backlash, or anything like that.”
The Indian Resource Law Center says over half of Native women have experienced sexual violence. And Native Womens Wilderness says Indigenous women are 1.7 times more likely than white American women to experience violence, twice as likely to be raped than white American women, and suffer a murder rate three times that of white American women.
Copyright @2022, KLCC.