Vincent Schilling
Indian Country Today

May 5 is recognized by national Native and grassroots organizations and advocates and activists in Indian Country as the day to bring awareness to the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

It is also the birthday of Hanna Harris, a Northern Cheyenne woman who went missing in 2013. She was murdered and later found on the Northern Cheyenne reservation the same year. Harris was 21. The cry for action by her community led to combined efforts across Indian Country to bring awareness to the crisis affecting families in Indian Country.

Hanna Harris, a Northern Cheyenne woman killed in 2013.

“In response to the crisis of MMIWG, grassroots actions to honor and call for justice for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls have increasingly grown at the local, regional, national, and international levels,” says the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center website. “Many of these grassroots efforts have lifted May 5th as a National Day of Awareness for MMIWG.”

President Joe Biden issued a proclamation Tuesday on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Awareness Day. He has promised to bolster resources to address the crisis and better consult with tribes to hold perpetrators accountable and keep communities safe.

In 2021, many people across Turtle Island are hosting virtual events, promoting social media campaigns and more.

In addition to all of the movement for justice in 2021, Native artists, musicians and public figures have created bodies of work in support of MMIW and MMIWG awareness.

Here is a list of 2021 events happening for National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls.

Native Women Running virtual event May 5 - May 8

Verna Volker, Navajo, is the founder of Native Women Running, an organization dedicated to showcasing the presence of Native women to the world. This year, Volker is hosting an MMIW Virtual Run to spread awareness about missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

A screen capture from the Native Women Running virtual run event page.

As the Native Women Running website event page states: “The MMIW Virtual event is a race at your own pace and place. You can run, walk, bike, hike; basically, any movement, anywhere. The mission is to be in solidarity with Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirits, grieving families, and individuals working on the frontlines to end this epidemic of violence against Indigenous people.”

Due to the pandemic, Volker decided to create a virtual event.

“I don't have time to go protest or go march or do these amazing things,” Volker said. “I wanted everybody to be a part of this movement, and whatever circumstance you are in your life, whether you're extremely busy or a mama of four, and you can't get out, you can be part of this movement.”

Volker thought maybe a few hundred would sign up for her virtual event. “So far I have over 2,500 registered for the event with 153 teams. So far we have raised over $23,000 for MMIW USA.”

Volker says it is all about the community affected by MMIW as well as the pandemic.

“I have gotten a lot of messages from women who are running for their family members. They lost their aunt who was murdered or they lost their mom. [I hear] these stories time and time again, since we have created this event ... Women reach out to me and thank me and say, ‘I'm glad you do this.’ This year we're just asking everybody to run or use any type of movement like biking, hiking, walking. I got someone asking, ‘Could I horseback ride?’ And I was like, ‘yes.’”

#MMIWGActionNow Twitter Chat with National Indigenous Women's Resource Center and IllumiNative

On May 5 at 12 p.m. Mountain Daylight Time, the NIWRC and IllumiNative will be hosting a Twitter chat to support MMIWG awareness.

As IllumiNative wrote in a tweet: “Follow @niwrc for this week of action for #MMIWG events. Plan on joining us on Twitter Wednesday, May 5th for the #MMIWGActionNow Twitter Chat, 12–1 p.m. MDT.”

President Biden’s 2021 proclamation on Missing and Murdered American Indian and Alaska Native Awareness Day & Red Shawl Honoring

Event Date: May 5, 2021

Time: 10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. ET

Location: Stream the event online at hhs.gov/live.

As described on the website: This special event will honor missing and murdered Native Americans to commemorate President Biden’s 2021 proclamation on Missing and Murdered American Indian and Alaska Native Awareness Day, and will include an honoring to add the names of victims submitted by impacted families and Native and Tribal communities to a memorial shawl.

In addition, President Biden issued "A Proclamation on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Awareness Day, 2021" on May 4. You can read it here.

Native artists for MMIW awareness

Two musicians previously reported on for their music videos promoting MMIW awareness were PJ Vegas, (son of Redbone’s Pat Vegas) with his song “Tears” and “Indian City” including artists Vince Fontaine, his daughter Gabrielle and Don Amero with their song “Through the Flood.”

Vegas told Indian Country Today the tragic reason behind his song.

“In 2017 my cousin Shantel was missing and later found murdered in Salinas, California. As my family sought out to try to find her, local law enforcement would do nothing to help them in locating her whereabouts. Many days after she went missing, she was found lifeless at a hotel in her community. My family protested in front of the local police station and courthouse to try to bring justice to her killer who is a sex offender that had a $1 million warrant for his arrest for failing to register. He was finally captured in San Francisco and brought to justice. This song ‘Tears,’ was my way of channeling that negative energy into something positive to bring awareness to these types of situations.”

"This was a very difficult song to write,” said Fontaine in a release. “But it is very important to continue the dialogue around this tragic issue. We want to remember those we have lost, and share the weight with families in pain. Socially, we want to foster a future of healing and positive change. Politically, we want to continue the conversation of equal weight to tragedies across all communities."

"Our song describes the hope emerging as we all stand together with these families in the midst of the healing process," says Gabrielle Fontaine. "I am honored to have been a part of bringing this song to life, and collaboratively, finding the words to say through song, we hope to bring more people together to stand with these families."

The First Nations JUNO award-nominated artist Don Amero said, “This is a prayer and petition for those that we have lost. This is our song of hope. We stand with those feeling the pain and turmoil and sing for justice and truth to prevail."

Other videos promoting MMIW awareness

The Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women by ChildrenSSP

Powerless by Classified

Resources

There are many resources available for those wishing to learn about and help spread awareness of MMIW/MMIWG.

The NIWRC library has a long list of resources to include reports on responses to the MMIW crisis, National briefings, and an MMIW Toolkit.

As described on the official website, “The Task Force has been empowered to conduct consultations; develop model protocols to apply to new and unsolved cases of missing or murdered persons in American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) communities, including best practices for law enforcement response, data sharing, and better use of databases; establish multi-disciplinary and multi-jurisdictional teams to review cold cases that involve missing and murdered AI/AN; and develop both an education/outreach campaign and a public awareness campaign.”

Other websites

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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