It is the morning of Sunday, May 23. Creator had just cleansed the city with a fresh drizzle of rain. The sky is gray as the clouds cast overhead and the sweet smell of wet earth blesses the space. At the Memorial Park band shell in Rapid City, South Dakota, the sound of people begins to build as collaborators and members from the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, Oglala Sioux Tribe and NDN Collective gather to begin setting up for the first Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives+ 5k Walk/Run. This year’s theme, “Moving Forward Together for our Relatives,” feels appropriate as many families, advocates, and community members gather for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Official registration for the event began at 9 a.m. (MST) with event t-shirts being offered to participants. Snacks and bottled water were also provided by Oglala Sioux Tribe’s Diabetes Prevention Program.
Spirits were high as participants gathered behind the event banner for a pre-walk/run photo. One cameraman, Andy Iron Shell, NDN Collective Organizer, tells everyone to raise their fists high: “The power of our people!” Then, with dozens of fists raised high and proud into the air as he continues, “The power of our Red Nation!”
The 5k begins, and participants and team members are off on a cool walk, run or jog through the South Dakota morning air. The event was a collaborative project organized in the spirit of collectively channeling energy toward the global epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirited individuals. It was a space for families and advocates to honor their stolen relatives while continuing to keep this issue at the forefront of discussion and action.
MMIW+ education was also incorporated along the route with signs displaying facts and statistics indicating the disparities in Murdered and Missing cases among Indigenous Peoples, further emphasizing the need for continued action.
As of 2016, 5,712 cases of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls had been reported, while only 116 of those were logged into the United States Department of Justice database. Notwithstanding the many grim statistics, spirits were lifted during the event as many participants felt called to action with the support of community and relatives surrounding them.
“Seeing our community come together, the children running for the people, the prayers that were said over our families, and the space held for those lost and still missing, this was a blessing to see,” said Sunny Red Bear, NDN Collective Racial Equity Campaign Director. “There is no movement, no change without the people, and that’s what we experienced during the event. It was all so beautiful and brought a powerful momentum into our community to move into action.”
Sunny, a citizen of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, has been deeply involved in MMIW+ advocacy and organizing both locally and nationally, and was a key organizer of the event. “MMIW+ can be a heavy, and at times, an overwhelming movement to be a part of. But we can find balance in all things,” she said. “As an Indigenous woman, it’s key to use my talents, skills and passions to contribute to this movement. It’s about finding where we can all plug into creating sustainable change.”
Caitlyn Shoulder, Oglala Lakota and NDN Collective Racial Equity Organizer, also played an organizing role at the event. “A highlight for me was the number of people who felt safe and comfortable enough to share personal stories of family members who have gone missing,” she said. “To be able to hold space for families to come and show up fully with all of the deep and heavy emotions intertwined with MMIW+ felt good and I am honored and humbled to have been a part of it.”
As community organizers, both Caitlyn and Sunny offered encouraging words for others to get involved in the MMIW+ movement. “It doesn’t have to start big, extravagant or be some huge ordeal. It can be doing things such as holding conversations with friends, or writing an opinion piece for your local media outlets,” said Caitlyn. “The importance is that you are taking action to bring awareness, bringing visibility and voice to this issue.”
“Find where you fit into this movement, take your time, set your boundaries, and don’t be afraid to ask for guidance and support,” said Sunny. “We have to practice self care in these movements in order to continue the work, so having grace for others and yourself is key.”
To see a full album of the event, visit NDN Collective’s Facebook page. And to watch a conversation with Linnea Kingbird-Martini, NDN Action Program Associate and the artist behind the image, check out our IG Live conversation with Linnea.
NDN Collective is an Indigenous-led organization dedicated to building Indigenous power. Through organizing, activism, philanthropy, grantmaking, capacity-building, and narrative change, we are creating sustainable solutions on Indigenous terms.