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In this photo taken Sunday, May 5, 2019, Cissy Strong Reyes holds a placard for her sister, Rosenda Sophia Strong, as she stands with her family during the national Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women march in Toppenish, Wash.

May 5 is a national day of awareness for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. Families, tribes, organizations and advocates will remember them in online and in-person events leading up to May 5, on that day and throughout May.

As advocate Roxanne White noted recently, these are somber events. May 5 is a memorial for all women and girls who have gone missing and have been murdered in Indian Country, she said at a gathering in Toppenish to mark what would have been the 34th birthday of Rosenda Sophia Strong.

The mother of four disappeared on Oct. 2, 2018. Her remains were found in an abandoned freezer outside Toppenish on July 4, 2019, and the FBI investigation into her homicide is ongoing. Strong’s case is among numerous unsolved cases of missing and murdered Indigenous people on and outside the 1.3-million-acre Yakama reservation over decades.

Native women and girls throughout the United States have suffered physical and sexual violence at disproportionate rates for centuries. The murder rate of Native women in some tribal communities is more than 10 times the national average. These disappearances or murders are often connected to domestic violence, sexual assault and sex trafficking, according to the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center.

The first national day of awareness for missing and murdered Native women and girls was May 5, 2017. In 2018 and 2019, the Yakama Nation Victim Resource Program REDgalia campaign and others held a rally and walk in Toppenish. Public events last year were canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic and no large public gatherings are planned for May 5 on the Yakama reservation.

Every year since 2017, the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center has arranged events for awareness and action in honor of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. This year, activities begin Thursday and continue through May 5.

Patsy Whitefoot of White Swan serves on the resource center’s Family Advisory Committee. Her sister, Daisy Mae Heath, disappeared in late summer 1987.

“It truly is a humbling experience to sit with other family members from throughout Indian County where we can share our personal spaces and thoughts with one another, via technology,” she said.

“Just our simple sharing of our feelings and thoughts with one another is powerful in knowing that we are not alone.”

Whitefoot has long advocated for missing and murdered Indigenous women and has been working with her sisters, the resource center and its National Partners Work Group on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls for the national week of action.

“We encourage all individuals and organizations to take action by participating in these virtual events and organizing additional actions in your communities on and around May 5th. Join us in saying ‘enough is enough’ —not one more stolen sister,” the resource center said in a statement.

Get more information and register at www.niwrc.org/mmiwgnatlweek21.

Reach Tammy Ayer at tayer@yakimaherald.com or on Facebook.

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