TOPPENISH, Wash. — Showing solidarity with other demonstrators across the nation Saturday, dozens gathered in Toppenish to call attention to the thousands of cold cases involving murdered or missing Native American women and girls in the U.S.
Hosted by the Yakama Nation Victim Resource Program REDgalia campaign, the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Walk and Rally saw more than 100 people gather in Old Timers Plaza to sing and pray before marching just over a mile to Yakama Nation Tribal School.
“There are a lot of people that have gone missing or have been murdered ... and we’re trying to bring awareness so that when something is wrong, like if someone is missing, we address it immediately,” said Tucellia Palmer, one of the rally’s organizers. “We want justice for the people who are gone; we want to know what happened to them.”
According to the National Institute of Justice, there were 5,712 cases of missing or murdered Native American women reported in 2016, and the U.S. Department of Justice reports that on some reservations, Native American women are murdered at a rate 10 times the national average.
To help paint a clearer picture of the problem in Washington, state lawmakers recently directed state and local authorities to increase resources for reporting and identifying missing Native American women.
“It’s still happening, it’s still not being solved or fixed, they still don’t know what’s going on ... let your family know what you’re doing and where you’re going,” said Jaleesa Vanpelt, a member of the Yakama Nation who said her sister was murdered.
Many of the marchers wore matching REDgalia shirts handed out by organizers. They chanted the names of missing or murdered women while others carried signs listing their names and ages. Volunteers held poles with traditional Native American dresses attached to the ends, meant to represent those killed or missing.
“We’re not immune to the violence against women,” said Pamela Dalton-Stearns, a Tlingit who came from Seattle to participate in the rally. “We’re taking a stand, all of us Indian tribes, because we need to end the violence against indigenous women.”
“By standing together today, it shows that there’s strength and that we’re resilient,” she said.
The problem isn’t unique to the U.S.
In Canada, a 2014 study by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police found nearly 1,200 aboriginal women were killed or disappeared between 1980 and 2012, with some officials saying they thought the actual number was higher and more study was called for. In 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau established a national inquiry into the issue.
“It’s heartbreaking ... sometimes they’re forgotten because they’re gone,” said Tony Maltos, who marched in remembrance of two women who were friends of his first wife, who is Navajo. Maltos said the two women were murdered in the Seattle area.
“Take care of each other, take care of your kids,” he said. “There are predators out there.”