Dozens gathered and marched through the Lummi Nation Thursday afternoon, donning red outfits, toting umbrellas, and singing and playing drums on behalf of missing and murdered Indigenous people (MMIP).
The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women walk, hosted by the Lummi Victims of Crime group and the Lummi Nation, honored Indigenous victims of assault and murder around the country on the second annual MMIP awareness day.
MMIP awareness day initially started as a memorial for Hannah Harris, a 21-year-old citizen of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe in Montana, who was killed in 2013. Her birthday, May 5, was recognized by the U.S. Senate as a national day of awareness in 2017. This year marks the second time the event has been federally recognized.
More than 100 people attended the march to show support Thursday, wearing red as the color is symbolic in many indigenous communities.
American Indian and Alaska Native men and women experience significantly higher rates of violence in the United States than non-native communities, according to the National Institute of Justice, part of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). More than four in five Native men and women have experienced violence in their lifetime. They also see much higher rates of assault and murder than non-Native individuals, according to a report funded by the DOJ.
In 2019, missing Indigenous women from Whatcom County, including from the Lummi Nation and the Nooksack Indian Tribe, represented about 10% of the missing indigenous women in Washington State, according to a study from the Washington State Patrol (WSP). Currently, 126 Indigenous people are missing across the state, according to WSP's list of active cases, last updated May 2. At least four of them are from Whatcom County.
“Native Americans suffer from substantially higher rates of violence and murder, and so we are hoping to help bring awareness to that,” said Abby Yates, press contact for the Nooksack Indian Tribe. “More than half of Indigenous women have suffered from violence, and sexual assault is prolific in Indian country.”
The Nooksack Indian Tribe has taken steps to mitigate some of the violence Indigenous men and women face in recent years, starting a local domestic violence program known as Tl’ils Ta’á’altha Victims of Crime.
“We’re really proud of the fact that we can offer those services to tribal members,” Yates said. “It’s nice that we have the opportunity for them to be served by our own people.”
Thursday marked the second national MMIP Awareness Day, proclaimed by President Joe Biden earlier this week.
The Nooksack Indian Tribe spent time raising awareness for MMIP via social media, enthusiastic about Biden’s public proclamation.
“Putting a national spotlight on [this movement] will help people to pay a little more attention,” Yates said. “For so long, it was mostly just Indigenous communities and people talking about this, and I feel like in the last year or so, it’s really picked up steam and is being talked about by more people because it’s such an important issue that has been overlooked for so long.”
Biden’s proclamation acknowledged the federal government’s historic shortcomings regarding missing and murdered Indigenous persons in the country.
“For generations, Indigenous persons, including American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians, have been forced to mourn a missing or murdered loved one without the answers and support they deserve,” the proclamation declared.
“Our Nation’s failure to address this ongoing tragedy not only demeans the dignity of each Indigenous person who goes missing or is murdered — it undermines the humanity of us all. Today and every day, we must continue to stand up for Indigenous people, and we must never forget the thousands of unsolved cases that continue to cry out for justice and healing,” it continued.