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'We just don't go missing:' Community gathers to remember Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women

·4 min read
People gather at 300 N. Phillips Avenue to remember indigenous women and girls who’ve gone missing or have been murdered on Thursday, May 5, 2022. Thursday was National Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Awareness day.
People gather at 300 N. Phillips Avenue to remember indigenous women and girls who’ve gone missing or have been murdered on Thursday, May 5, 2022. Thursday was National Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Awareness day.

As the sky grew darker, lit candles shown on the faces of people dressed in red gathered to remember missing and murdered Indigenous women in South Dakota and across the country on Thursday night in downtown Sioux Falls.

Thursday was National Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) Awareness Day. Earlier in the day, Gov. Kristi Noem proclaimed May 5 to be Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Awareness Day in South Dakota.

“I think the grieving comes with so many families who have either had their loved ones, their relatives, that have been assaulted ... or are missing, or they find them murdered,” Serene Thin Elk, the director of behavioral health at South Dakota Urban Indian Health, said. “And the trauma doesn't just affect that family. It affects the whole community.”

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Thin Elk said it was important to use the day as a way to speak about an issue many people don’t know impacts Indigenous communities in South Dakota.

But the MMIW epidemic isn’t just in South Dakota, it’s across the nation. It’s so big that United States Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland has called it a “crisis” and pledged federal resources to investigate missing and murder cases.

The FBI’s National Crime Information Center reported 5,203 missing Indigenous women in 2021, but that number was deemed an undercount in October Congressional report because of a lack of comprehensive federal data.

In South Dakota, at the beginning of April, there were 73 missing Indigenous people, 30 of them women, out of 104 missing people, according to the attorney general’s missing person’s database.

During the red candle vigil, outside of SDUIH’s community center, three window panes had photos and names of Indigenous women and girls who were either missing or murdered.

Michaela Seiber, the director of SDUIH, said that they had gathered the names over the past few weeks, some from their own research and some submitted by family members.

Angel Moreno, 11, holds a sign to remember three women who are part of the MMIW crisis on Thursday, May 5, 2022, in Sioux Falls as part of a vigil for MMIW.
Angel Moreno, 11, holds a sign to remember three women who are part of the MMIW crisis on Thursday, May 5, 2022, in Sioux Falls as part of a vigil for MMIW.

Three names were not included on the window panes but were on a poster reading “Justice 4 Ashleigh Wabasha, Kozee Decorah, Ashlea Aldrich,” held up by 11-year-old Angel Moreno, who had a red handprint painted over his mouth, meant to symbolize the women who had been silenced.

His mom, Lupita Moreno, 33, explained the women were citizens of the Omaha tribe.

“Usually when a woman gets found somewhere like Ashlea Aldrich, she was found unclothed, bruised up. FBI said it was hypothermia,” Moreno said, her voice catching. “She has two kids. So to me that hits close to home because I went to school with her. Same age as my little sister.”

No one has been charged in connection to Aldrich's 2020 death, according to the Sioux City Journal.

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Decorah had been found dead in a burned-down house in 2020 while Wabasha was recently found dead in April after having been missing for a few weeks, Moreno explained.

The FBI is currently investigating Wabasha's death, according to news reports.

A man was found guilty of manslaughter in connection to Decorah's death, according to the Omaha World Herald.

Moreno, who is also a citizen of the Omaha tribe and has lived in Sioux Falls since she was 17, said she had to teach her son and daughter about the dangers Indigenous women face.

People gather at 300 N. Phillips Avenue to remember indigenous women and girls who’ve gone missing or have been murdered on Thursday, May 5, 2022. Thursday was National Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Awareness day.
People gather at 300 N. Phillips Avenue to remember indigenous women and girls who’ve gone missing or have been murdered on Thursday, May 5, 2022. Thursday was National Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Awareness day.

“It's gonna be a way of life for him to watch out for himself and his sister. We just don't go missing,” she said. “We are preyed upon, so we have to be aware we always have to watch out.”

Jasmine LeBeau, the Cultural Health Assistant at SDUIH, also spoke about the importance of protecting and educating children.

“We have to be cautious now, we have to look around where we're at, know our surroundings,” she said. “Long time ago we had our family, our communities to protect us. And that said, today we have to tell our young girls "be careful," we have to make sure that they stay close to us.”

Follow Annie Todd on Twitter @AnnieTodd96. Reach out to her with tips, questions and other community news at atodd@argusleader.com or give her a call at 605-215-3757.

This article originally appeared on Sioux Falls Argus Leader: Vigil held to remember Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women