When Hanna Harris didn’t come home after joining friends at Fourth of July festivities in Lame Deer, Mont., in 2013, it soon became clear that something was wrong.
Harris, a 21-year-old citizen of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, was the mother of a toddler. After her car was found abandoned with two flat tires, a search party organized by her family and others discovered her body on July 8.
The 2010 high school graduate had been raped and murdered. In early 2015, Eugenia Rowland was sentenced to 22 years in prison for Harris’ beating death. Her common-law husband, Garrett Wadda, was sentenced to 10 years as an accessory after the fact and for disposing of Hanna’s body.
Today would have been Hanna’s 29th birthday. In 2016, Montana’s congressional delegation introduced a resolution for a national day of awareness in memory of her and other missing and murdered Indigenous women.
Native women throughout the United States and around the world have suffered disproportionate rates of murder, physical and sexual violence for centuries. Dozens of women have gone missing, have been found murdered and have died mysteriously on and around the 1.3-million-acre Yakama reservation, which is in Yakima County and northern Klickitat County. Many cases are unsolved.
Though the COVID-19 pandemic canceled in-person gatherings in 2020 and is still limiting them this year, many tribes and organizations, including the Yakama Nation Behavioral Health Victim Resource Program and the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, have planned virtual events.
The Victim Resource Program opened its week of events Monday with a prerecorded statement by Athena Sanchey-Yallup, executive secretary of the Yakama Nation Tribal Council and chair of the council’s special MMIW committee. Watch it at www.facebook.com/victimsresourceprogramynbhs/
“There’s so many other thoughtful and respectful activities that are hosted by our community members with regards to the missing and murdered Indigenous women’s crisis,” she said.
They include an hourlong gathering at 3 p.m. Wednesday in Pioneer Park at South Elm Street and West Second Avenue in Toppenish. Cissy Strong Reyes organized the event and will speak.
In her prerecorded statement, Sanchey-Yallup provided updates of federal and state efforts to address the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women. They include Operation Lady Justice Task Force, Savanna’s Act and the Not Invisible Act.
State Patrol maintains a Missing Indigenous Persons page, with a link to its list of active cases of missing Indigenous people. An updated list is released on the first weekday of every month. The latest list includes 93 cases, 22 of whom are women and men within the Yakama Nation and in Yakima County.
On April 15, the Yakama Nation sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland supporting a request by Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, that a cold case task force office for missing and murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives be established in Yakima through Operation Lady Justice.
“And I certainly hope this comes true to assist our families and our loved ones,” Sanchey-Yallup said.