May 13, 2022 | NEWS | By Evan Arvizu | Illustration by Patil Khakhamian

Last Thursday, a group of almost 70, led by Indigenous women, took to the streets of Colorado Springs rallying for awareness and action surrounding the urgent issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives nationwide.

The rally took place on National Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives Awareness Day, May 5. It is the second year that the day is being nationally recognized, but it was actually proposed back in 2017. Two Montana lawmakers worked with the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center to craft the idea after an Indigenous Cheyenne woman, Hanna Harris, was murdered in Lame Deer, Montana. The date they decided on for this day of awareness is May 5, Harris’s birthday.

Harris’s case is just one example of the epidemic of violence that is currently facing Indigenous people across the country. According to Native Women’s Wilderness, Indigenous women and girls are murdered at a rate that is 10x higher than the national average, despite Indigenous people making up only around 1.7% of the total United States population. This makes homicide the 3rd most common cause of death nationwide for Indigenous women.

Nearly 85% of Indigenous women will experience some form of violence in their lifetimes, with 56% experiencing sexual violence at some point. Indigenous women are 3x more likely than white women to be murdered and 1.7x more likely to experience violence. These statistics are startling, but what makes this issue worse is that these numbers are likely gross underestimates, due to poor record-keeping, underreporting, racial misclassification, and a lack of media coverage across the nation.

The rally in Colorado Springs was organized by local members of the Indigenous community and was led by Monycka Snowbird, a local Anishinaabe activist and director of the Haseya Advocate Program. The Haseya Advocate Program is currently the only urban response to domestic violence and sexual assault for Indigenous survivors in Colorado.

“When we look at the national numbers of just missing and murdered women we’re at over 9,000. Now we have realized that there are just as many Indigenous men that are missing as Indigenous women so those numbers are pretty overwhelming,” said Snowbird.

Leaders and community members convened at Acacia Park in downtown Colorado Springs. Attendees were encouraged to wear red, a color that has become representative of the MMIR movement. Many participants painted red hand prints over their mouths, symbolizing the voices of the Indigenous people that have been silenced.

Organizers created signs with the names and pictures of more than 70 missing or murdered Indigenous relatives that are either from Colorado or are known by those involved in the rally. These signs were then carried by attendees throughout the march, bringing awareness to how vast and connected this issue is to the local community.

As the group stood at the park and started to make its way to the next location, people sang traditional songs accompanied by drums, and chanted “No More Stolen Sisters” and other phrases.

The rally then stopped at Colorado Springs City Hall, standing at the base of the stairs as many of the leaders spoke about one of the important pieces of the current local fight for MMIR action– Bill 22-150, the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives Bill.

The bill would require the Colorado Bureau of Investigation “to work with the office and federal, state, tribal, and local law enforcement agencies for the efficient investigation of missing or murdered Indigenous persons.”

It would establish an office for missing and murdered Indigenous relatives in the Department of Public Safety. The bill lists what the offices duties would be, including assisting with missing Indigenous persons investigations and homicide cases involving Indigenous victims; taking measures to address issues relating to missing or murdered Indigenous persons; and providing assistance to families of victims.

Indigenous leaders worked in collaboration with local lawmakers to draft the bill, but are now facing kickback as it makes its way through the legislature.

“Many of us came together after our rally last year and helped to draft that bill and have been working to get it through. It has already cleared the Senate and today, May 5th, it is in the House,” said Snowbird. “However, Governor Polis is adamantly stating that he is going to veto our bill. He will be the first governor in the country to veto an MMIR or MMIW bill. Fifteen other states have already passed it… This is unacceptable. We need to have justice.”

It has since passed the House but is still at risk of being shut down. Polis is claiming that now, instead of proceeding with the bill drafted in collaboration with Indigenous leaders, his office is going to veto that bill, create an executive order that implements a different MMIR task force, and effectively remove all Indigenous contributions and voices from the process.

However, leaders encouraged the crowd to not be discouraged by the system.

“I don’t want people to get frustrated because this bill didn’t go the way everyone wanted it to go. That’s the process of colonialism. They try to tire us out with the bureaucracy, with the paperwork, with the testimony. They want you to get frustrated. They want you to throw up your hands and say there’s nothing to be done.” said Sky Roosevelt-Morris, a Shawnee member and rally leader.

“The speeches given at city hall were very empowering. They really taught us a lot about how we as Indigenous folks, cannot rely on a system that was inherently built to oppress us,” said Colorado College student Vicente Taijeron ‘24, who attended the rally.

After city hall, the group walked down the street to the “Take Back the Power” mural by Gregg Deal, located on Tejon Street and Pikes Peak Avenue. This mural has become a focal point in the conversations surrounding Indigenous representation, rights, and MMIR in Colorado Springs since it was erected in 2020.

The mural stands 80 feet tall, and depicts a young Indigenous person, wearing a T-shirt of their favorite band, The Interrupters, with a large red hand print covering their mouth.

Artist Gregg Deal discussed why this depiction of a young Indigenous person is so important.

“I think that representation matters. Women in general are underrepresented and when they are, sometimes they aren’t represented correctly. Our life givers and our two-spirit, which is another way of saying LGBTQ+, are important to our communities so those folks need to be represented and at the forefront of things.”

This Indigenous representation is also important in connection to MMIR.

“Being able to shine a light on this issue of MMIR amidst representation is important. Having the representation of a young Indigenous person so visible on this wall is just as important as bringing awareness to MMIR. They go together,” said Deal.

The rally concluded with a few speeches in front of the mural and a final song, requested by one of the children in the crowd. The national day of awareness is an important step towards addressing this issue, but is by far not the only thing that needs to be done.

Organizers made it clear that the work they are doing continues, and that bringing awareness and fighting for representation, resources, and systemic change is an ongoing effort.

“This is something that relates to everyone. Whether or not you’re Indigenous, everyone can relate to having a mother, sister, sibling, or other woman-identifying figure in their life that they care about,” said Taijeron ‘24. “Knowing that these are communities that are being impacted by this disproportionately should draw on the humanity and empathy of people to learn about these issues and get involved. It’s important for everyone.”

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