TOPPENISH, Wash. -- Like others attending a special event at The Campbell Farm in Wapato on Saturday, Suzanne Jim was there to support family and friends of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.
Jim also went to the Healing Together Vigil to spread the word about her March 15-16 event, which will be another way to raise awareness of the decadeslong plague of violence and death in Indian Country.
The “Dancing in Red” Honoring MMIW Round Dance will start at 7 p.m. March 15 and continue into March 16 at the Toppenish Community Center, 600 N. Meyers Road. MMIW stands for missing and murdered indigenous women.
There is no admission and it’s open to the public.
“It’s a community event to help those in mourning heal, in a way,” said Jim, a senior at Yakama Nation Tribal School. “It’s not a competition. It’s a gathering.”
Jim handed out flyers at the vigil organized by Roxanne White and Cissy Strong Reyes. More than 50 people attended Saturday’s event, which helped raise funds for a search and reward for information on the whereabouts or location of Rosenda Sophia Strong, who is Reyes’ sister.
Strong, a 31-year-old mother of four, was last seen by family on Oct. 2 when she left Wapato with a friend in an older Nissan car to go to Legends Casino in Toppenish.
Jim created the MMIW dance as her senior project. She’s been planning it since October under the guidance of her mentor, Ezilda Winnier.
“She helped me think of the idea,” Jim said.
A round dance is a traditional community celebration and social dance that brings relatives or larger groups of people together as a way to mourn someone who has passed or honor others for their accomplishments, celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, weddings or graduations.
Dances also unite people for certain causes, such as the round dance Jim is organizing. It will feature dancing, singing and two midnight dinners along with 50/50 drawing and mini raffle.
Donations are welcome for the 50/50 and mini raffle for items such as completed beaded projects and traditional foods such as huckleberries and canned salmon. Those who want to donate should contact Jim at the school or 509-643-7127.
She’s still thinking about having concessions to raise more money. Half the money raised will go to the drummers, singers and cooks; the rest will go the class of 2019 for its senior trip.
Jim is teaming up with the Yakama Nation Behavioral Health’s Victim Resource Program, which created the REDgalia campaign to bring awareness.
“They’ll be speaking” and handing out free T-shirts at the round dance, Jim said of the victim resource staff.
The Stickman is Sikoya ScabbyRobe. The ceremonial Stickman guides the flow of the evening through the dances and the songs.
Those attending should wear red, the color chosen to honor MMIW. Bobby Cameron, chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, explained the reason for the color.
“By wearing red, it acknowledges that those who have gone missing or have suffered a violent death are still in the hearts of people who knew them,” he said.