The Rapidian

"No More Stolen Sisters": A March to Remember Those Lost to Violence

On May 5, 2022, people took to the streets of Grand Rapids, Michigan to honor loved ones lost to violence and to raise awareness for the Missing and Murdered Indigenous People crisis in the United States
The Three Fires Pow Wow at Riverside Park in 2013.

The Three Fires Pow Wow at Riverside Park in 2013. /Eric Tank

The MMIP marchers making their way up Lyon Street

The MMIP marchers making their way up Lyon Street /Alaynna Dressler

The MMIP marchers crossing the Pearl Street Bridge

The MMIP marchers crossing the Pearl Street Bridge /Alaynna Dressler

The March for Missing and Murdered Indigenous People

On May 5, 2022, hundreds of people gathered peacefully at Ah-Nab-Awen Park in downtown Grand Rapids. It was the first anniversary of President Joe Biden declaring the date as Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Awareness Day, and members of Indigenous communities all over the state of Michigan came to Grand Rapids to march in remembrance of their missing and murdered relatives and loved ones and to raise awareness for MMIP. The event was hosted by the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi, the Gun Lake Tribe (Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians), and the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi.

The march began with music and people eagerly greeting friends and family after a long, COVID-induced separation. Individuals of all ages, genders, and physical abilities were in attendance. Informational booths were set up around the park, including one for Uniting Three Fires Against Violence, a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness for the disproportionate rates of sexual and domestic violence committed against Indigenous people. Many of the attendees wore traditional garments and had painted a red handprint over their mouths, a symbol that has become associated with the MMIW (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women) movement and voices that have been silenced. The marchers also carried flags, banners, and signs emblazoned with statements such as: "No More Stolen Sisters," "We Will Remember," and "Inaction is a Powerful Choice." A water ceremony was performed, and guest speakers were called up to share their stories. "When something like this happens, it affects us all," said Melissa Pamp, the mother of Nangonhs Massey. Massey was a 21-year-old Indigenous woman and member of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians who was murdered by a non-native woman on tribal land in 2020. "We all know someone, at least one person, MMIW has affected." Melissa Pamp went on to speak about her daughter at the May 5 event:

"I don't want Nangohns to be remembered as just another statistic or the girl who was murdered. Nangonhs loved being a mother. Her son, Miigwan, meant the world to her. She had a passion for art and music. She loved to cook. She was goofy. She was a good friend. She was nonjudgmental and she was very forgiving. She was an MMIW advocate and water protector. She had her whole life ahead of her."

Proclamations from both Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Mayor Bliss of Grand Rapids were also read out to the crowd by Melissa Kiesewetter, Tribal Liaison to the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, and Joe Jones, Grand Rapids Second Ward Commissioner, respectively.

The attendees, dressed all in red, marched from Ah-Nab-Awen Park and made their way through downtown -- up Lyon Street, down Ottawa Avenue, down Monroe Center Street, and eventually back to their starting point at Ah-Nab-Awen Park. Gun Lake Tribal Police walked alongside the crowd and stopped traffic as the marchers crossed the busy downtown streets. Officers from the Grand Rapids Police Department did not appear to be in attendance. Along the way, marchers began chanting "Whose Streets? Our Streets," "Stand Up, Fight Back," and "MMIP." "These are our streets," one marcher shouted. "Our ancestors built this town!"

 

The Scope of the Issue

There is a severe lack of data surrounding the rates of violence against American Indian and Alaska Native people, especially from before the MMIP movement became well-known. However, there are some studies out there that paint an alarming picture:

  • The FBI's National Crime Information Center reported that 9,571 Indigenous people were reported missing in 2020 -- 5,295 women and 4,276 men.
  • According to the Urban Indian Health Institute, 5,712 Indigenous women and girls were reported missing in 2016 -- yet the United States Department of Justice only logged 116 of these cases. 
  • The Center for Disease Control (CDC)'s WISQAR system shows that, in 2020, homicide was the third leading cause of death for AI/AN women between the ages of 10 and 24 and the fifth leading cause of death for those between the ages of 25 and 34. Homicide was also the third leading cause of death for AI/AN men between the ages of 15 and 24 and the fourth leading cause of death for those between the ages of 25 and 34.
  • A 2016 study sponsored and published by The National Institute of Justice reported that American Indian & Alaska Native women were 1.2 times more likely to experience violent victimization compared to white women. Similarly, American Indian & Alaska Native men were 1.3 times more likely to experience violent victimization compared to white men. That same study also estimated that 4 in 5 American Indian & Alaska Native people had experienced violence at some point in their lives.
  • In 2008, another study funded by The National Institute of Justice revealed that American Indian and Alaska Native women are ten times more likely to be victims of murder than any other race.

For reference, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the American Indian & Alaska Native population in 2019 was approximately 6.9 million (or about 2.09% of the total U.S. population).

 

What is Being Done?

In the 1978 case of Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribethe United States Supreme Court ruled that tribal courts did not have the jurisdiction to "try and punish" non-native offenders for crimes committed on tribal lands without Congressional approval. "This [case] made our reservations hunting grounds for non-native predators, abusers, rapists, [and] murderers," said Jade Green, the 15-year-old co-founder of Bimose Ode (an education and advocacy group) and Chair of the Native Circle of Newaygo County's Youth Program. "[They became] a place to literally get away with murder." Then, in 2013, President Barack Obama signed the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, which upheld the inherent independence and jurisdiction of tribal governments. Once again, tribal courts could criminally prosecute non-Indian offenders for domestic/dating violence and/or the violation of court-issued protective orders on tribal lands. However, it did not fully restore the authority that the Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe case had taken away. "VAWA 2013 was a sliver of [our] jurisdiction returned," said Chief Judge Melissa Pope of the NHBP. "Oliphant is the case where the United States Supreme Court took away our inherent criminal jurisdiction [and] we want it back. We also want back our civil jurisdiction." Over the last few years, a couple of additional laws have been passed to address the issue of MMIP:

In March of 2022, President Biden signed the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2022, which would extend tribal criminal jurisdiction to cover sexual assaults, trafficking, stalking, child abuse, and assaults against tribal law enforcement officers that occur on tribal lands. "Starting October 1, if tribes have enacted VAWA 2022, we can finally prosecute sexual assault by non-natives on tribal land," Chief Judge Pope announced. "We are going to prove over and over and over again that our native nations and our tribal courts... can fulfill their sacred duty to protect and care for its own tribal citizens."  

 

Resources for Victims of Violence

StrongHearts Native Helpline is a 24/7 helpline for American Indian & Alaska Native individuals who have suffered through domestic violence and sexual abuse. They can be reached online or by calling 1-844-762-8483. Additionally, the NHBP has a Victim Services Department. For more information, please contact:

 

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