Friday marked two years to the day that Rosenda Sophia Strong, a 31-year-old mother of four, left her sister’s home in Toppenish, never to be seen alive again.
In those two years, Cissy Strong Reyes has been her sister’s voice, sharing her story in local, national and international media and at public events as she pleaded for information. Strong’s remains were found in an abandoned freezer just outside the city on July 4, 2019. Her death has been classified as a homicide and the FBI is investigating.
Reyes and their brother, Christopher Strong, cousin Roxanne White and other family and friends have sought justice for Strong and the countless other missing and murdered Native women, girls, men and boys on and beyond the Yakama Reservation.
On Friday, they took their message to the streets. They’ve marched for justice; on Friday, they drove through Toppenish and Wapato after painting words on their cars and attaching posters with photos of Strong, Rosalita “Rose” Longee, Janice Hannigan, Elias Chief Culps, Alyssa McLemore, Leona Kinsey and other missing Native people.
Drivers of the several vehicles honked their horns as White shouted through a megaphone while the car parade passed through the Yakama Nation housing projects and subdivisions of Wannity Park, Apas Goudy, Wolf Point and Mamachat.
“Say her name! Rosenda Strong!” White said as children waved and adults shot video with their phones. Other drivers honked and shouted in response.
They drove slowly along many streets in Toppenish and Wapato, including Horschel Road, where the Strong siblings grew up.
“When we were little we came here,” said White, whose relatives lived a few houses away. “We just wanted to stop here because this is where they were all together growing up.”
Native women and girls have suffered disproportionate levels of physical and sexual violence for centuries. It is unknown how many Native women, girls, men and boys have gone missing, been murdered or have died mysteriously on and around the 1.3-million-acre Yakama Reservation.
Car parades have become a familiar sight in the months of the novel coronavirus pandemic. But all the attention the Friday afternoon event attracted pleased Reyes, White and the other activists and supporters.
They included Tina Russell of Kent; McLemore is her niece and has been missing for 11 years. White came from Seattle and Lorie Thomas traveled from the Nisqually Reservation. Thomas located her sister last spring after she had been missing for 14 years.
After parking at the plaza, several in the group walked along West First Avenue, carrying posters and shouting their support of justice for Strong and the others who have gone missing, have been murdered or died mysteriously.
“What I’m trying to do today is bring awareness to our community. We have an epidemic of missing women and men, girls and boys,” Reyes said after the car parade, as participants stood at the Santa Cruz Plaza in Toppenish. “We need to let people know that they are missing and they need to be found. ... MMIW needs to end.”
The violence happens way too often to Native people, Thomas said. “We are their voice and we need to be loud,” she said.
“We haven’t forgotten you, Rosenda. We haven’t forgotten you, Alyssa. We haven’t forgotten you, Leona,” she added.