Justice for missing, murdered demanded: Gallup event highlights growing crisis
By Colleen Keane
Special to the Times
Gallup has one of the highest rates of missing and murdered Indigenous women and relatives in the state.
Yet, only periodic attention is given to the ongoing tragedies here and other tribal communities, according to speakers at the “Gallup for Indigenous Justice & MMIW&R” event held last Friday at the El Morro Theater and the downtown conference center.
Family and friends of the disappeared and murdered along with legislators and advocates showed up to learn how to stop the violence.
“We know about this inside of our communities but outside of our communities, it is largely ignored,” said filmmaker Rain Bear Stands Last, during a phone call with the Navajo Times.
“This is an existential threat to tribal people,” he said, “not just in the U.S., not just in Canada but globally across the world.”
Rain is a member of the Strange Owl family on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana.
“This is an issue that needs to be addressed every day and we need to hold our local, state and national leaders accountable and assist us financially,” said Genevieve Jackson, McKinley County commissioner.
“It’s heartbreaking that there are Navajo people who are our mothers, grandmothers, brothers and sisters, who have to live with the (loss of a loved one) on a daily basis,” she said.
According to federal reports, Indigenous women and girls are murdered 10 times more often than other women; murder is the third leading cause of death for Indigenous women; more than 4 out of 5 Indigenous women have experienced violence; and Indigenous women are twice as likely to be raped than white women.
As of 2016, the National Crime Information Center reported 5,712 cases of missing Native American and Alaska Native women and girls. But since then, researchers realize they really don’t have any idea how many cases exist.
A recent federal report from the Government Accountability Office states that the total number of missing or murdered Indigenous women is unknown, because federal databases do not contain data from tribal, state and local law enforcement entities.
Call for justice
Designed to mobilize involvement and action across cultures, organizer and host Charmaine Jackson, of Ná’álkid Productions, said that about 200 people attended the free afternoon and evening events.
Included were an open mic for family and friends to tell their stories, a panel discussion and a lineup of speakers including Commissioner Jackson, representatives from Battered Family Services, the LGBTQI community, 505-GETFREE and Navajo Nation Missing Persons, to name some.
The event was also on Autumn Montoya’s (Miss Indian New Mexico) calendar and featured the Red Willow Harmony Group of Taos Pueblo in a production by acclaimed fashion designer Patricia Michaels.
To educate the audience on the complexities of the unsolved murders and disappearances, Rain presented his eye-opening films set in Montana, “Somebody’s Daughter” and “Say Her Name.”
Rain said the films have become a bridge to wider audiences informing legislators, the White House, national media and general public on jurisdictional issues, failed police response, lack of data collection, lack of financial investment, and historic roots in colonial occupation.
Rain said looking at what’s happening in Montana, where there are alarmingly high rates of missing and murdered Indigenous women and relatives, is a mirror image of what’s happening around Indian Country nationally.
“We can transfer what’s happening in Montana to most any state where there’s a significant tribal population,” he said. “Everyone is facing the same thing.
“The whole purpose of the film(s) are to provide voice to the silenced through their relatives,” Rain said.
Of the many family members who speak in “Somebody’s Daughter,” Rosie Harris, Northern Cheyenne, brings attention to her sister Hanna’s murder sharing how a shambled police investigation was left in the family’s hands.
“In my sister’s case, we were doing what the investigator should have been doing,” she said.
She advises family members searching for their loved ones, “If they (the police) are not going to do anything, go out there and ban together, make a march, hold signs – that is what we need.”
On the Blackfeet Reservation, Kimberly tells how she combed the mountains searching for her sister, Ashley Loring Heavy Runner.
“We were supposed to explore the world together – instead, I am exploring the woods for my sister,” she laments.
“Say Her Name” spotlights more missing and murdered women and girls like Kaysera Stops Pretty Places, Crow and Northern Cheyenne; Selena Not Afraid, Crow; and Henny Scott, Northern Cheyenne.
Henny’s mom brings the film into focus, “We must say their names!”
Repeating a message voiced through both films, Juliet Hayes, Coushatta, the presenter in “Call Her Name,” said, “If this would have been a white girl something would have been done. It is inexcusable.”
“We need to still bring attention to the discrepancies,” said New Mexico State Sen. Shannon Pinto, D-District 3. “We have quite a few Native American women who don’t get the same attention as non-Natives. We have to address how its handled and (get the resources that are needed).”
Host Charmaine Jackson worked to build support since serving as the communications director for the late Sen. John Pinto.
As one of his last legislative actions in February 2019, Pinto co-sponsored Senate Memorial 38, which supported then Congresswoman Deb Haaland’s push for national data collection.
In 2019, Pinto said in an email to the Navajo Times, “This is a terrible tragedy and our state’s investigations must begin now!”
Pinto passed away in May 2019. He was 94 and had spent more than 40 years in the state Legislature.
To honor the senator and keep the momentum, Jackson built partnerships with individuals and organizations. She said that the Gallup event was possible with their help and more outreach will take place in the months ahead.
Some partners include: McKinley County, Battered Family Services, Global Indigenous Council, Zuni Pueblo Advocates, Navajo Nation Missing Persons Update, First Nations and Jock Soto representing the LGBTQI community.
Adding to the momentum, Rain said he will appear on the nationally televised “Dr. Phil Show” on Nov. 30 and the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe will show his movies on Dec. 3.
Commissioner Jackson said the momentum needs to keep building.
“It needs a hard push to address it,” she said. “Let’s get behind it, so it can no longer be ignored or an occasion we just think of once a year.”
“We need other nationalities and races to (help),” she said. “Why isn’t there a push, a forum, and bring this matter to national attention and get some of these crimes solved?”
Information: Charmaine Jackson, 505-917-8644, or Google GAO report on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.