TOPPENISH — Like many other events happening Sunday throughout the Pacific Northwest and the nation, a gathering in this Lower Valley city will raise awareness for missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.
The second annual REDgalia Awareness Walk begins at 1 p.m. at the Old Timers Plaza at South Toppenish Avenue and South Division Street with opening prayer by the Yakama Nation Tribal Council’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Committee.
Members of the Yakama Nation’s Iksiks Washanal’a (“The Little Swans”) dance group, a collective of girls brought together by the culture of their tribe through oral interpretations of dance, will perform before a speaker addresses the crowd.
The walk will begin at 2 p.m. and go to the Yakama Nation Tribal School, just over a mile away at 601 Linden St. The REDgalia campaign was created and is run by staff of the Yakama Nation Behavioral Health Victim Resource Program, which supports victims, their loved ones and their communities by intervention and healing. REDgalia events throughout the year promote awareness and educate the public about warning signs, safety tips and services the victim program provides.
In an April 18 event at the Yakamart, staffers distributed REDgalia T-shirts with a new design, titled “Guide Me Home,” created by Aaron Hamilton. Chosen as the winner in a contest earlier this year, Hamilton’s artwork shows a Native woman with two feathers in one hand, her other hand raised toward an eagle flying above her.
Those with REDgalia shirts are encouraged to wear them Sunday, which is the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls. Eight members of Congress in early April reintroduced a Senate resolution supporting it as such. Also in early April, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed a resolution designating May 5, 2019, and each following year as Washington state Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s Day.
“Indigenous women are worthy of personal sovereignty and equal protection under the law,” it says.
An epidemic of violence has disproportionately plagued Native women for centuries. Indigenous women go missing and are murdered at rates higher than any other ethnic group in the United States, Inslee’s resolution notes. The U.S. Department of Justice reports that on some reservations, Native American women are murdered at a rate 10 times the national average.
More recently, Inslee signed legislation sponsored by Rep. Gina Mosbrucker, R-Goldendale, that creates two liaison positions in the Washington State Patrol and requires the agency to develop best practices for handling missing persons cases. Mosbrucker also sponsored legislation in 2018 that calls for collecting data on missing Native women in the state.
No one knows exactly how many Native girls and women have gone missing on or around the 1.3-million-acre Yakama reservation. Many cases of missing people or mysterious deaths of women and men remain unsolved. During a two-year FBI investigation spurred by rumors of a serial killer, investigators found as many as 32 cases dating to 1980.
Among those missing is Rosenda Strong, whose 32nd birthday was April 16. She was last seen in Wapato on Oct. 2, when she left with an acquaintance to visit Legends Casino in Toppenish. Family and friends gathered at the Yakamart nearby on her birthday in a special event organized by her sister, Cissy Strong Reyes, and cousin Roxanne White.
“I don’t know how many times she has to say, ‘Please tell us where she’s at,’” White said of Reyes.
“We want Rosenda home,” White said.