YAKIMA, Wash. — As more than 400 people marched through downtown Yakima on Saturday, the names of missing and murdered Yakama Nation women echoed off the buildings.
A contingent of Yakama Nation citizens and supporters of missing and murdered indigenous women led the third Women’s March on Yakima while chanting the names of Felina Metsker, Rosenda Strong, Destiny Lloyd and others, after each one saying, “Never to be forgotten.”
“Today, I am going to walk for my sister,” Cissy Strong-Reyes, Strong’s sister, told the group before the march. “And when I go home, I am going to step up and walk for other women.”
She and other Native speakers called for more thorough investigations into cases of missing and murdered women in Indian Country.
Strong, 31, was last seen in October near Toppenish. Metsker, 33, was shot to death in Harrah in 2016, and a federal jury recently convicted the man accused of killing her. Lloyd, 23, was found dead near Marion Drain Road in December 2017. Her death was recently ruled a homicide.
The Yakima march was one of many women’s marches held around the country. It has been held every year since 2017, when thousands of women converged on Washington, D.C., to protest President Donald Trump’s inauguration.
While marchers in Yakima represented other issues — gender equality, reproductive rights, opposition to Trump’s policies — the issue of murdered and missing indigenous women was at the forefront, literally and figuratively.
Following speeches outside the Unitarian Universalist Church on North Second Street, marchers lined up behind the Native American group members — many wearing red in support of missing and murdered women; some in regalia — who started off the parade with traditional songs and drumming.
The marchers, escorted by Yakima police motorcycle officers, marched down East Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, North Eighth Street and East Yakima Avenue before ending at Millennium Plaza, where the Lil’ Swan Dancers, a Yakama dance group, performed traditional dances.
Patricia Whitefoot, one of the leaders of the dance group, said she was grateful for the emphasis placed on indigenous women.
“While this has been going on for many years, it has not been in the attention of the media,” Whitefoot said.
Christopher Strong, Strong’s brother, said he hopes the added attention will generate more tips into what happened to his sister, as well as other women.
Other speakers at the event included Yakima City Councilwoman Dulcé Gutierrez and Ester Huey, longtime community activist and facilitator for the Let’s Talk community-engagement group.
Huey reminded the crowd that they were building on the work of women who marched for the right to vote and equality in the past century and that they needed to work together to create the “beloved communities” envisioned by Martin Luther King Jr. where people work for the common good.
Gutierrez, likewise said the marchers needed to stand together in solidarity to help empower women.
“When we speak out as women, men are held accountable,” Gutierrez said.