Say Their Names: Tulalip observes National MMIWP Awareness Day

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News

On the evening of May 3, hundreds of Tulalip citizens and members from nearby tribes convened at the Gathering Hall for the 2nd Annual MMIWP Awareness Day event. Designed to bring attention to the MMIWP epidemic, as well as uplift those families who have been affected by the crisis, the MMIWP gathering at Tulalip is a rollercoaster of emotions that is equal parts heartbreaking and healing. 

“The number of MMIP grows so much every year at Tulalip and across the land. The duty of spreading awareness on this matter falls on every one of us,” said Anita Matta, Tulalip Police Department Program Manager, and lead organizer of the MMIWP gathering. “I would like to share a few statistics: in Washington State, Native people make up 1.6% of the population, but make up 17% of missing people in the State. And as for violence against Indigenous women and girls, 4 out 5 of our women have experienced violence and 55.5% have been physically abused by their intimate partners. And 40% of sex trafficking victims are Native American and Alaskan Indian women.”

Nationally, May 5 is dedicated to raising awareness about the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Persons epidemic that continues to plague Native America. Every day, more and more of our relatives are reported missing, and thousands of individuals have yet to be found. Additionally, the rate at which Native people are murdered in the US is higher than any other ethnicity. And it’s important to remember, that with any statistics gathered while dealing with the MMIWP epidemic, the true numbers may never be known as many cases and incidents are either underreported, misreported, or left unresolved. 

Though still in its infancy stage, the MMIWP Awareness Day event has been met with great reception from the community, and has done an amazing job of paying tribute to those Tulalip members who have been reported missing or who have been murdered and are no longer with us. A recurring theme and important piece to this event is based around the phrase ‘SAY THEIR NAMES’, which has been featured on the back of the event t-shirts at each of the awareness gatherings thus far. 

Upon stepping into the entryway of the Gathering Hall, attendees were handed red t-shirts and the Tulalip Youth Council were also passing out candles for the candlelight vigil. Directly behind them was a large poster, where the youth invited the people to write down the names of their loved ones or a message to the victims of the MMIWP epidemic. 

Twelve Tulalip tribal members, who are missing or were murdered, were recognized during the Friday night gathering. Their selfies and family photos were highlighted in a slideshow, that was casted on several large projector screens, and it continuously played on a loop throughout the entire evening. Their portraits were also featured beside red dresses, a national symbol that helps bring attention to the MMIWP crisis, all throughout the Gathering Hall. And keeping true to Tulalip’s MMIWP slogan, we’re going to pay our respect and say their names here as well; Cecil Lacy Jr., Anthony Kitsap Sam, Bridgette Simpson, Mary Davis Johnson, Nina Mae Dell, Kyle Van Jones-Tran, Sophia Solomon, Hayleigh Jo McGhie, Jessica Christian Jones, Andrew M.L. Fryberg, Gina Blatchford, and Jolene Leanne Flores. 

While the people settled in and shared a meal together, members of the Tulalip Board of Directors offered a few words to kick-off the event. 

Said Theresa Sheldon, “I’m so grateful that we can come together and actually be honest and open and talk about what MMIWP means to us. We wear them on our shirts, and we post on social media who we lost. We say their names, so they’re not forgotten. We say their names, so they know they were loved and cared about.”

Added Chairwoman, Teri Gobin, “My heart goes out to those who are still missing, the families whose hearts are broken, and all of those families who have suffered from the loss of a loved one. I know that by having these events, by saying their names, by being here together, we honor those who are missing or were murdered. Keep a warm place in your heart for them and always remember their names. They were our members, they were our family, they were our community. We will always be here to try to do whatever we can to honor them and tell the families how much we love them; how much we appreciate them. And we’ll pray for those to come home and those who are still suffering, we just love them.”

Other guest speakers that evening included the Tulalip Chief of Police, members of the Tulalip Bay Fire Department, Lena Hammons who is on the National Board for Human Trafficking and Domestic Violence, as well as the team who helped organize the event, which consisted of both government employees and community members. The Tulalip Legacy of Healing and Child Advocacy Center were in attendance, providing information about the services they offer, as was the recently established Crisis Response Team. 

“I am here to ask all of you to start working toward prevention. Educate yourself. If you or someone you know is in a DV relationship, reach out for help,” urged Lena. “The Tribe has a lot of resources. TPD takes it very seriously. The Child Advocacy Center and the Legacy of Healing take it very seriously, you just have to reach out. We can save each other. We can protect each other. Let’s take care of each other and please, let’s love each other.”

There wasn’t a dry eye in the Gathering Hall when it came time for families to share the stories of either the disappearance or murder of their loved ones. Through heavy sobs, the mothers and fathers who spoke on the mic, pleaded for the parents in the building to tell their kids they love them on a daily basis. And they advised everyone in the hall to step-in and step-up if they notice their loved one has become involved in an abusive and unhealthy relationship. Whether looking for the whereabouts of their lost family member or seeking justice for those who were murdered, each family asked for the community’s support and help in bringing closure to the families.  

Nona Davis, sister of Mary Davis Johnson, shared, “I would just like to say that we appreciate everybody who is here today. We ask that you please tell anybody and everybody about our sister, Mary Davis Johnson, who has disappeared. All we want is her to be back. I want her back. Our family wants her back. And with everything that we been through, it’s been a struggle – but tonight I can say that we’ve all been through this together, because everybody that is gathered here today is going through the same thing we’re going through. And we support everybody here, and all we want in return is the same from everybody else, the support to help us find our sister.”

Tribal members Sarah Hart and Monie Ordonia were honored and recognized for their efforts in bringing attention to the epidemic. The week leading up to National MMIWP Awareness Day, Sarah and Monie dedicated their time to help raise awareness for the MMIWP crisis by placing red dresses and red shirts in highly visible areas throughout the reservation. As mentioned earlier, red dresses have become the national symbol to help raise awareness for the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Persons epidemic. Each dress is hung upright to give the illusion that someone is wearing it, but the woman whom it belongs to is missing. Sarah and Monie painted the names of those Tribal members who fell victim to the epidemic on each article of clothing that they hung up this year. 

While they were in the process of conducting this work, Sarah took to Facebook and said, “In 2020, I knew I wanted to bring awareness for our communities, for our brothers and sisters. I started hanging up red dresses, and my first year I did it alone. My second year, I put the call out asking if anyone wanted to come with. Monie showed up bright and early to meet me and we have been doing this every year together since. We pray, smudge, and do this with the best intentions and love in our hearts. It’s not for the clout. It’s not about likes. It’s not about being boastful. It’s about awareness.”

Sarah and Monie then invited all the women in attendance up to the floor, and together they created a beautiful and powerful moment as they sang the Women’s Warrior song. On the last verse, they all put their fist in the air to send strength and honor those lives lost and those souls who are still missing. 

Following the event, Monie shared, “Thank you all who came over to the Tulalip Gathering Hall for our MMIWP Awareness Day event. It was a very emotional evening. I pray that we were able to honor those loved ones we have lost, who are either missing or murdered. I hope in some ways we could be part of the medicine that brings healing to the survivors who are still affected by the loss of their loved ones.”

Josh Fryberg, the event’s emcee, called for a moment of silence for the victims of the epidemic and their families. He then asked the families to gather at the center of the floor so that the singers and dancers could offer their prayers and medicine byway of traditional drumbeats. Antone George (Lummi) was in attendance to lead the drummers with the impactful MMIW song, which he composed and contain the lyrics: Every day and every night, I pray, pray for you. I love and miss you.  Sister, come home. 

The night concluded with a coastal jam as the crowd formed a circle to witness the dancers and singers pour their hearts out on the floor, in dedication of their lost or murdered loved ones. 

Tulalip tribal member, Cary Williams, stated, “I’m in support here today for my family, our Tribe, in solidarity of all the families affected. Personally, I am affected. One of my best friends from high school is currently missing right now. It affects all communities. These prayers are something we can do on our part to uplift those relatives who are missing, to call out to their spirit and call them home, here to us. And for the relatives who are gone, who are not with us any longer, this is a time for us to let our emotions go, on this floor. And this is the best way we can be possible – in our culture, active in our lifeways here in Tulalip. Today, it really uplifts my heart to lay it out on the floor and walk out of this place much lighter than when I walked in. And to be able to put my best friends name on that poster was healing for me that I didn’t know I needed.”

If you would like to learn more about the MMIW epidemic, please visit for more information. And if you have any information regarding those Tribal members who are missing, please contact TPD at (360) 716-9911.

“This was healing for me, especially after what happened with my cousin Jenzele,” expressed Youth Council member, Arielle Valencia. “It just felt really nice being here and to heal in a way of decolonization. It really proves how healing our culture is and how far we have come.”

When asked what the key takeaway is for the youth she said, “Learn your culture, be able to respect others, and be on the lookout for other people. You may not know the person, but you’re related. You’re related to everyone on the rez no matter what. Blood or not. Be connected to them.”