For them: Bemidji group holds walk for missing, murdered indigenous women
BEMIDJI—Jodi Howard. Kateri Mishow. Alyssa McLemore. Darla Beaulieu. Kandace Dunn. Sheila St. Clair. Olivia Lone Bear. Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind. Rebecca Anderson.
At the time of Bemidji's second Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women's Walk, some of these women had been missing for decades. Others are just recently gone.
Still more are not missing at all; their families know exactly where they're buried.
"Everyone in this room is impacted by this issue. Every single one of us," organizer Renee Gurneau told the approximately 130 people who gathered for Wednesday's march. "Right now we're looking at 5,000 in Canada and the U.S., 5,000 missing and murdered indigenous women. And that is, those are our sisters, our aunties, our grandmas, our relatives."
The Valentine's Day walk was planned by the Indigenous Environmental Network's women's leadership group Ogimaakwewiwin. It was just one of many similar events held across the United States and Canada in order to raise awareness of the disproportionate amount of violence against Native American women.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, one in three Native women reports having been raped during her lifetime.
"Racism, sexism, homophobia and a legacy of genocidal practices for generations are the root causes," said Simone Senogles, who works with the Indigenous Environmental Network. "Traditionally the roles of women in many indigenous societies were one of strength and influence. Women have real power and are greatly respected. Colonizing forces recognized this, and set about their work on tearing down female and two-spirit structures of power."
Before the marchers walked from the Northwest Indian Community Development Center to Bemidji State University's Beaux Arts Ballroom, many gathered to make signs honoring missing or murdered loved ones.
Tara Rasmussen didn't make a sign, but she carried a red dress in honor of her aunt, Jodi Howard, who went missing 20 years ago. Rasmussen said her cousins grew up without a mother, and her uncle—desperate to find Howard—enlisted psychics before his death. Still, Rasmussen and her family doesn't know what happened to Howard.
"She should be here with her family...her boys had to grow up without her," Rasmussen said. "She's not forgotten, that's for sure."
Now, Rasmussen worries that her 21-year-old daughter, who lives in the Twin Cities, will also disappear.
"It's really scary for her to be so far from me," Rasmussen said. "I just feel like nowhere is safe anymore."
Stephanie St. Clair walked for her mother Sheila, who has been missing since August 2015. St. Clair said her mother brought laughter wherever she went, and that her family is still looking.
"It ain't out there," St. Clair said. "They need to know what's really up with Native people and what's going on in the world."
Following the walk, jingle dress dancers participated in a healing dance.
"To those known to be murdered, rest in peace and beauty," Gurneau said. "Those who go unreported, you matter."