ST. GEORGE — In response to the growing problem of missing and murdered Native American women, a local indigenous organization held a rally to raise awareness on Thanksgiving morning.
On Thursday, members of Utah’s indigenous tribes braved the weather and gathered on 700 South across from Harmon’s to inform the public about the thousands of indigenous women who are missing or murdered each year.
Members of United Indigenous Natives of Southern Utah stood together on 700 South with a red hand over each of their mouths to symbolize the violence indigenous women experience in silence. The same red hands — known as “the silent hand” — were seen on their banner to show the families that are torn apart and left behind according to Stan Benally, president of the United Indigenous Natives of Southern Utah.
An eagle feather — a sacred symbol in many indigenous cultures — was shown soaked in blood to symbolize what rally organizers said is the disrespect indigenous men and women have faced while attempting to locate or get justice for loved ones.
The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women campaign uses the color red in hopes they will be able to call back the spirits of the missing women and children so they may be laid to rest. In many tribes, red is known to be the only color spirits see.
“In this day and age, being a Native American — that’s what society calls us — it’s really tough to stand up for yourself because we’re really low in numbers, small in numbers,” Benally said.
In 2016, over 5,000 indigenous women were murdered or missing and 84% of indigenous women have reported experiencing violence in their lifetime.
According to more recent statistics from the United Indigenous Natives of Southern Utah, there were 506 missing and murdered indigenous women cases identified over the past year. Of those, 128 were missing indigenous women cases, 280 were murdered and 90 had an “unknown status.” The average age was 29 years old.
The Thanksgiving rally almost didn’t happen. United Indigenous Natives of Southern Utah went through the proper channels to ensure their event was in accordance with city ordinances, but Benally said city officials almost didn’t allow them to rally, despite having applied for a location weeks in advance.
“It wasn’t taken seriously, I think, until it made national news because the president was in it,” Benally said. “All of a sudden, with less than 24-hour notice, I got an email saying that we can do it.”
Last week, the Associated Press reported Attorney General William Barr announced an initiative to address the growing crisis, proposing that the Justice Department invest $1.5 million to hire specialized coordinators with significant Indian Country caseloads that would oversee the development of protocols for better law enforcement response to missing persons cases specifically related to indigenous citizens.
With the approval of this initiative, tribal and local law enforcement officials would be able to contact the FBI for additional resources in some missing indigenous persons cases. Once contacted, the FBI could deploy specialized teams to lend aid in potential searches.
As a proactive approach, the Justice Department has committed to conducting analyses of federal databases and data collection practices in order to look for ways to improve the gathering of information in missing persons cases.
“I can’t change what happened to us, the trauma that’s happened to us,” Benally said. “That’s what we’re trying to teach this generation. We’re trying to reconnect, trying to undo. Hate only leads you in a bad direction.”
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.