MINNEAPOLIS -- On a day when red heart-shaped chocolate boxes line store shelves and red roses fill vases, the shade took on a different meaning this Valentine's Day as hundreds donning the color took to the streets of Minneapolis to raise awareness for violence against Native people.
Red ribbon skirts fluttered in the wind and marchers wrapped themselves in red coats and scarves as they braved the bitter cold for Friday, Feb. 14's annual Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples March, hosted by the Minnesota Indian Women's Sexual Assault Coalition. The march aimed to raise awareness for the crisis, often dubbed MMIP or MMIW (for women), and pay tribute to those lost.
"It really is heartwarming that we can get so many people in Minnesota to show up when it's below zero," MIWSAC Executive Director Nicole Matthews said after the march. "I know this is for our people."
According to the Indian Law Resource Center, Native women in some areas are murdered 10-times more often than the national average. More than four in five Native women have experienced violence, and over half have experienced sexual violence.
On Friday, many participants painted a red hand print over their mouths -- a common symbol for the movement -- and carried signs asserting, "We are still here," or asking, "Am I next?" Others held photos of their loved ones who have gone missing or murdered.
One of those marchers was Tillie Aldrich, who drove four hours from the Omaha Reservation in Nebraska to march. On her red T-shirt was a screen-printed photo of her 29-year-old daughter Ashlea Aldrich, who just died in January. Tillie marched with Ashlea's two little boys in tow as they carried a photo of their late mother.
Asked why she made the long drive to Minnesota from Nebraska, Aldrich said they "just needed to get away from home."
"We needed some empowerment, some strength," she said.
Minnesota's Democratic Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, a citizen of the White Earth Nation, told the marchers that Friday's robust attendance was testament to the fact that "more and more people are in this fight with us." But there is more of a fight to come, she said.
In recent years, local, state and federal lawmakers have passed some provisions aimed at addressing the crisis. But some bills, like the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, the Not Invisible Act or Savanna's Act -- named for Fargo's Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind -- remain at a standstill.
Flanagan said it's time that lawmakers realize that, "Yes, our people are worth investing in. Yes, our Native women are worth protecting."
North Dakota State Rep. Ruth Buffalo, D-Fargo, a citizen of the Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation, remembered Greywind before Friday's march, saying that she "became our little sister" as the community searched for the 22-year-old Spirit Lake Nation woman following her disappearance in 2017. Greywind was found brutally murdered, but Buffalo said she will "never forget" her.
"That is why we work so hard today."