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'No more stolen sisters': Hundreds assemble, march for Missing Murdered Indigenous Women

Several hundred people walked in solidarity on Thursday to raise awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. Many held signs bearing messages like “Bring her home” and “No more stolen sisters,” while others painted red handprints on their faces to display the cause's symbol.

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Participants march along Paul Bunyan Drive on Thursday, May 5, 2022, as part of a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s event in Bemidji.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer
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BEMIDJI — The beating of hand drums rang out in the distance, first faintly but soon louder and louder. Then, in the blink of an eye, a sea of red flooded the path along Paul Bunyan Drive.

Several hundred people walked in solidarity on Thursday to raise awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. Many held signs bearing messages like “Bring her home” and “No more stolen sisters,” while others painted red handprints on their faces to display the cause's symbol.

Marching from the Sanford Center, attendees sang and visited with one another as they made their way to Paul Bunyan Park for a gathering hosted by activist group MMIW 218.

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Participants march along Paul Bunyan Drive on Thursday, May 5, 2022, as part of a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s event in Bemidji.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

“We encourage everybody here to connect to our teachings and use our medicines we have here today, cedar and tobacco, to help find healing,” Audrianna Goodwin, an organizer with MMIW 218, said in opening. “I know we don’t have all the answers so many of us seek but we want to acknowledge, honor and remember all those taken from us. We also thank those in power with us today for pushing and advocating for us and doing everything they can to bring our loved ones home.”

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MMIW 218 organizers Simone Senogles, left, and Audrianna Goodwin welcome attendees to a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s event on Thursday, May 5, 2022, at Paul Bunyan Park.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

May 5 was federally recognized for the first time in 2021 as the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls, leading local activists to hold a similar event last year — something they now hope will become an annual occurrence.

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“I love showing awareness of what’s going on in Indian Country, and we won’t stop until our women are no longer going missing,” said Valahlena Steeprock, an MMIW 218 organizer. “Thank you all for showing up and showing awareness for our missing and murdered women.”

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MMIW 218 organizer Valahlena Steeprock speaks during a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s event on Thursday, May 5, 2022, at Paul Bunyan Park.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

According to the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women, Indigenous women are murdered at 10 times the national average and four out of five Native American women are affected by violence today.

Statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show homicide is the third-leading cause of death among American Indian and Alaska Native girls and women ages 10 to 24 and the fifth-leading cause of death for Native American women between the ages of 25 and 34.

Steeprock also brought attention to her cousin Nevaeh Kingbird, a teenager who has been missing from Bemidji since fall 2021.

“To our own missing sister, Nevaeh Kingbird, who has now been missing for 195 days,” Steeprock said, wiping a tear from her cheek. “We love you so much Nevaeh, you are so sweet and we just want to see you home.”

Kingbird was reported missing to the Bemidji Police Department in the early morning hours of Oct. 22, 2021, after she was last seen leaving a home in Southview Terrace Park.

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Bemidji Police Chief Mike Mastin, left, and Beltrami County Sheriff’s Office Captain Jason Riggs visit with attendees during a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s event on Thursday, May 5, 2022, at Paul Bunyan Park.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

Law enforcement and community members have conducted numerous searches for Kingbird in the months since her disappearance.

Another search was held earlier in the day on Thursday, with no new evidence found. Several members of the Bemidji Police Department and Beltrami County Sheriff’s Office also joined in the march and following gathering to show their support and offer resources.

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Anyone with information about Kingbird is asked to contact the police department at (218) 333-9111.

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A participant holds a sign that reads “We are not objects, we are people” during a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s event on Thursday, May 5, 2022, at Paul Bunyan Park.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

Community healing

After opening statements from organizers and a poem reading about the impacts of violence toward Indigenous women, a drum group played a healing song, while jingle dress dancers and others at the event were invited to dance.

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A healing song is played for a round dance during a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s event on Thursday, May 5, 2022, at Paul Bunyan Park.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer
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Jingle dress dancers make their way around the drum circle during a healing round dance on Thursday, May 5, 2022, as part of a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s event at Paul Bunyan Park.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

After a couple of songs, anyone personally affected by having a family member or someone close to them go missing was asked to line up so attendees could shake their hands and then join in the round dance.

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MMIW 218 organizer Audrianna Goodwin takes the hand of Teddi Wind, the mother of missing teenager Nevaeh Kingbird, as attendees comfort those affected by violence against Indigenous women during a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s event on Thursday, May 5, 2022, at Paul Bunyan Park.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer
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Bemidji Police Chief Mike Mastin takes a child’s hand as attendees comfort those affected by violence against Indigenous women during a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s event on Thursday, May 5, 2022, at Paul Bunyan Park.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

“This is to honor your loved ones, we want to welcome you, we want to honor you and your loved ones,” said Simone Senogles of the Indigenous Environmental Network, who also helped organize the event. “All of us have been affected by this. All of us know someone, miss someone or have lost someone. We are grieving for our family and our friends, so when we come together and dance this helps our hurt, too.”

Dozens began to line up while attendees made their way down the line offering a handshake or a hug in comfort.

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Attendees listen to organizers give opening remarks ahead of a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s event on Thursday, May 5, 2022, at Paul Bunyan Park.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

“All of us here today is a testament to that healing that our community needs, all the stories we are sharing are very personal and vulnerable stories that so many of us know first hand. We all know what this violence feels like,” Goodwin said. “But this truth-telling that’s taking place is the circle wanting to close, so we can start a new circle, a circle of healing. So please come join the families affected (by losing a loved one), please honor their memories and continue to advocate to bring them home.”

For more information about missing and murdered Indigenous women and related issues or to donate, visit the MMIW 218 Facebook page .

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Several hundred community members gather in Paul Bunyan Park for a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s event on Thursday, May 5, 2022, in Bemidji.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer
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Participants play a drum song as they march along Paul Bunyan Drive on Thursday, May 5, 2022, as part of a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s event in Bemidji.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer
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Bemidji City Councilor Audrey Thayer, right, joins in a round dance during a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s event on Thursday, May 5, 2022, at Paul Bunyan Park.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer
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Participants march along Paul Bunyan Drive on Thursday, May 5, 2022, as part of a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s event in Bemidji.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer
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Participants march along Paul Bunyan Drive on Thursday, May 5, 2022, as part of a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s event in Bemidji.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

Annalise is the editor and a photographer at the Bemidji Pioneer. She is a Mass Communication graduate from Bemidji State University. Her favorite pastime is exploring the great outdoors and capturing its natural beauty on camera. Contact Annalise at (218) 333-9796, (218) 358-1990 or abraught@bemidjipioneer.com.
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