WAPATO — More than 40 people took to the streets of Wapato on Saturday afternoon to demand justice for Rosenda Sophia Strong and other missing and murdered indigenous people.
Holding posters with pictures of Strong and other Native American women who are either missing or murdered, the group prayed and called for justice. At one point, the group stood outside the Wapato City Jail demanding police provide answers on a homicide that occurred in May.
“My sister was only 31 years old when she was taken from us,” said Cissy Strong Reyes, Strong’s sister. “She did not deserve to be found in an unplugged freezer.”
Strong, a citizen of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla, was last seen Oct 2, when she went with a friend to Legends Casino in Toppenish. Her remains were found in an abandoned freezer in a field near Toppenish on July 4.
Roxanne White, Strong’s cousin, organized the prayer walk through Wapato, to both remember Strong and dozens of indigenous people who are reported missing or have been murdered, as well as call the public’s and officials’ attention to the 32 people who are listed as missing or murdered from the Yakama Nation.
Escorted by Yakama Nation Tribal Police officers who held back traffic, the group marched through downtown Wapato toward the park behind City Hall, chanting “No more stolen sisters” and “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” as well as reciting the names of Strong and some of the missing and murdered. There were also traditional songs and a prayer during the march.
While it is getting more attention today, White said the issue of missing and murdered Native people is not new.
“We have an issue here, an epidemic,” White said. “This has been going on since the first point of contact with colonial invaders.”
Among those speaking was Mildred Quaempts, a Umatilla citizen whose mother was found floating in a canal near Elmwood Cemetery in Toppenish in 1957. In addition to her mother, Quaempts’ daughter — named for her grandmother — is also numbered among the missing and murdered of the Umatilla tribe.
“We have to stand together, with one heart, one mind,” Quaempts said. She urged children to be close to their parents and not lie about where they are going, to protect themselves from being abducted and exploited.
Juana Moran, mother of Oscar Rangel, a 24-year-old Wapato man who was found shot to death in a field off North Manor Road on May 31, also called for justice for her son. She said Yakima County sheriff’s detectives have not given her any information on the case, nor even allowed her to see the clothing her son was wearing when he was killed.