Montana Public Radio

Vigils, Panel Discussion Call Attention To Missing And Murdered Indigenous Women

May 7, 2021

The crisis of violence against Indigenous women and girls is being recognized in ceremonies in Montana and around the nation this week. Family members and advocates gathered on the State Capitol steps in Helena Wednesday and outside the Payne Family Native American Center in Missoula. 

Prayers, speeches and songs evoking hope, rage and the importance of tribal sovereignty echoed on the oval of the University of Montana campus just before sunset. 

[Music] “Lately I can’t get you out of my mind. Oh how hard it is to say goodbye. But it’s never goodbye, just say I’ll see you again …” 

Event organizer Lauren Small Rodriguez requested that song be played. It was shared with her a few weeks ago by her aunt who was mourning the violent death of her daughter, Rodriguez’s cousin. 

“Each of us has lost someone, either directly or indirectly, to murder, to violence,” Rodriguez said. “This is not something new that we’re talking [about] here today. This is something that has been going on for quite some time. What I mean, ‘quite some time,’ I mean hundreds of years this has been going on.” 

Those gathered at the vigil lit candles and walked quietly around the university oval; some of the lights blowing out in the wind. 

More than 84 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced violence in their lifetime, according to the National Institute of Justice. 

A panel discussion this week hosted by the Missoula Beacon Project, touched on how Indigenous women can heal from trauma. 

The women speakers focused removing the stigma around asking for help, understanding the roots of this trauma in colonization, and the importance of offering safe spaces with cultural support. 

Joni Kicking Woman, a civil advocate at Missoula County’s criminal justice division, says government agencies can support victims and survivors by hiring Native staff who can make them feel comfortable and understand their traditions. 

“Laughter is a key component of healing. And Natives can have that Native humor with one another. Those things to ease that process, to ease and help that person while they're in crisis.”

President Joe Biden and Governor Greg Gianforte each issued proclamations declaring days of awareness this week for the women who have been murdered or gone missing.