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Race and Ethnicity

Missing and murdered Indigenous women commemorated by tribal members, allies

 A group of presenters and song bearers shared poems and accounts Wedensday night, to raise awareness of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
Brian Bull
/
KLCC
A group of presenters and song bearers shared poems and accounts Wedensday night, to raise awareness of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

Woman’s advocates and Native Americans gathered last night in Springfield’s Heron Park, to honor Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW.)

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 night'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.
Brian Bull
/
KLCC
Participants in Wednesday night'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 U of O 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.”

 Megan Van Pelt (left) and Samantha Hernandez (right), two participants in the MMIW/MMIG event in Springfield Wednesday evening.
Brian Bull
/
KLCC
Megan Van Pelt (left) and Samantha Hernandez (right), two participants in the MMIW/MMIG event in Springfield Wednesday evening.

Recent events touch attendees

Clifford spoke to President Biden’s appointment of Deb Haaland as the Secretary of Department of the Interior 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 U.S. Interior Department – created a Missing and Murdered Unit within the BIA 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 the University of Oregon, 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.

 Marta Clifford (left) and Theresa May (right), co-organizers of the MMIW event which held its second observance in Springfield's Heron Park on the evening of May 4, 2022.
Brian Bull
/
KLCC
Marta Clifford (left) and Theresa May (right), co-organizers of the MMIW event which held its second observance in Springfield's Heron Park on the evening of May 4, 2022.

“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 Anglo-American women to experience violence, twice as likely to be raped than Anglo-American women, and suffer a murder rate three times that of Anglo-American women.


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