Sea of red raises visibility on missing and murdered Indigenous women

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

“It is an honor to be here today. We raise our hands to the Tulalip Nation for welcoming us,” said Earth-Feather Sovereign (Colville Confederated Tribes). “We are here in honor of our missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, and all missing and murdered people, including two-spirits. We are here to bring community together and to hold a space for healing and awareness.”

Earth-Feather’s opening remarks struck a chord in every one of the nearly two-hundred Tulalip citizens and community members who gathered at Greg Williams Court on May 10th for an evening of unified support. The vast majority of supporters wore red to symbolize the violent dangers faced by many throughout Indian Country. Numerous reports detail the severity in which Native American women face a disproportionate amount of violence, and the degree to which victims’ cries are silenced, when compared to others in the United States.

The National Crime Information Center reports that, in 2016, there were 5,712 reports of missing Indigenous women and girls, though the U.S. Department of Justice’s federal missing persons database only logged 116 cases. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has reported murder is the third-leading cause of death among Native American women between the ages of 10 and 24, and rates of violence on reservations can be up to ten times higher than the national average.

The Tulalip Tribes hosted the sixth stop of an eight city journey from Olympia to Blaine, organized by Earth-Feather and the MMIW Washington group to further awareness for all missing and murdered Indigenous people. Supporters of the cause were greeted at Greg Williams Court and given a red t-shirt that read ‘Prayer Walk 2019’ along with a special cedar rose wrapped in red ribbon to commemorate the occasion. 

After a welcoming, prayer, and drum circle set the mood, the large contingent of red-wearing community members began their march through Tulalip. Led by the Sacred Riders, the crowd resembled a sea of red as they walked from Tulalip Bay to the Battle Creek neighborhood. 

“Our Sacred Riders motorcycle club was honored to be here today and support this important cause,” explained Tony Hatch. “The organizers welcomed us and our motorcycles because it draws more attention to the march itself, and we’re able to lead the way by keeping the road clear for the marchers and their prayers.”

During the march, many prayers were offered for anyone in need, songs were sang to keep spirits uplifted and tobacco was dropped to honor spirit helpers. It was a powerful demonstration made possible only through a strong sense of purpose and shared mission. 

“This march means raising awareness for our Native women. The ones who have been murdered or gone missing,” shared Winona Shopbell-Fryberg as she walked alongside her father and daughters. “I was taught how sacred our Native women are, that we are the life givers of our people. When these things happen to our women, along with the domestic violence, it’s very disrupting to our way of life.”

  “There’s a lot of us doing our work in our own lives, but we don’t often come together,” added Bibianna Ancheta while taking in the moment. “We’ve been trying and trying to unify our people. This has been a long time coming, a good opportunity for our people to come together.”

Deep, rhythmic drumbeats from the march could be heard all around the bay. Many people stood outside their houses to take in the scene, while others felt the calling to join in. The distinctive sound acted like a locator beacon for those drawn to the drum, like Monie Ordonia who hopped in her car and followed the sound to the march. 

“I was in my bedroom and heard loud drums. I wondered what was going on, so I jumped into my car and drove down Marine until I saw all the red,” she described.

The march continued to the Battle Creek park, where the group formed a large prayer circle and dropped more tobacco, before heading back to Greg Williams Court. Earth-Feather greeted every single participant as they entered the gym with a handshake and thank you. 

Back at the gym, a delicious dinner was served followed by a coastal jam. 

“It’s amazing that as a community we’re coming together to embrace one another, to support a movement and help bring a spotlight to an issue that for far too long has only received a blind eye,” said Jade Carela, Legacy of Healing Director. Jade and Josh Fryberg, on behalf of the Tribe, presented MMIW Washington with a donation to help further their cause as the group makes their way to the international Peace Arch situated near the Canadian border.

“We’ve really enjoyed the Tulalip hospitality and felt so much love today with our march,” reflected Earth-Feather at the event’s conclusion. “This isn’t something that only happens in the Pacific Northwest, it’s a pandemic happening to all our Indigenous people across Turtle Island. Bringing prayers and resolutions to the issue, while raising continued awareness to missing and murdered Indigenous women, creates protection now and for generations to come.”

House Bill 2951 to increase resources for finding Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women

By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News 

During the final months of 2017, Washington State Republican Representative, Gina Mosbrucker, of the 14th Legislative District chose a DVD rental from Redbox one evening for a relaxing movie night. Had she picked a comedy or romance she may have missed her calling, but she decided on a film titled Wind River and was taken on an emotional journey into the world that is unfortunately a haunting reality for many Indigenous families across the country, and even a bigger issue in Canada. 

The powerful movie follows a professional tracker and an FBI agent throughout the Wind River reservation in Wyoming as they try to uncover a crime when a young, missing Indigenous girl’s body is found dead on the reservation. The film gives insight to the epidemic that is taking away our mothers, sisters, aunties and cousins and how jurisdiction, lack of resources and underreporting causes many missing and murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) cases to go unresolved. 

The end of Wind River concluded with a message that shook Rep. Mosbrucker to her core. It read, ‘While missing person statistics are compiled for every other demographic, none exist for Native American women.’ With that statistic on her mind, she began to conduct her own research and found that was indeed true and felt the strong urge to help. A short time after watching the movie and learning about MMIW, Gina was at her office at the Washington State Capital on the morning of January 20, when hundreds of Indigenous activists marched on the Capital to bring awareness to the epidemic. 

“There are things in life that keep coming back to your mind over and over and you know you need to work on it,” says Representative Mosbrucker. “For me, this is my calling. There were repeated messages to me from the movie Wind River and the message at the end of the movie is not acceptable. After further research I found that was true and I also had a tribal girlfriend from high school call me up and she told me I have to fix this. I think the final straw was the large group of Native Americans who were in full tribal dress with drums in the middle of the Capital. Afterwards, I was in my office working late and I couldn’t get it out of my head and I said, I’m called to do this work. Senator McCoy’s staff was nice enough to introduce me to a tribal member who happened to be in his office that night. She came to my office and shared her story. We spent an hour discussing the challenges, how she’s been trying for a decade to get help.”

She began working immediately and wrote HB2951, getting the bill approved days after the MMIW March on the Capital and pulling in tribal citizens at the last minute to share their testimonies of lost loved ones. The bill went through the long process of becoming law, reaching the senate floor where it was nearly passed unanimously and shortly after, Washington State Governor Jay Inslee signed the document, making the bill law back in June. HB2951 is essentially a study that requires Washington State Patrol to work with local tribes and tribal law enforcement to increase resources for reporting and identifying MMIW. 

The first phase of this study was initiated on September 27 at the Tulalip Administration building during the Washington State Patrol Tribal Community Outreach Tour. State Patrol officers, Washington State legislators and the Indigenous community of Tulalip met to discuss HB2951 and determine ways to help find MMIW and put an end to the heart wrenching epidemic.

“I am a Tulalip member so this is an important subject for us and we need to get to some resolution,” said Washington State Senator John McCoy. “Under the federal law VAWA (Violence Against Women Act), Tulalip are one of the three tribes that are part of that pilot project so we have the resources to help make this happen. It’s time to gather information and get something done.”

For three hours the committee spoke to the community about MMIW and HB2951 as well as ongoing cases that are happening now in Indian Country. Citizens learned that nearly 90% of Indigenous women have experienced some sort of abuse in their lifetime, whether it was verbal, mental or physical. Another shocking statistic conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) showed that over half of the Native American population of women have been sexually abused, and out of those cases, over 70% claimed the offense was committed by a non-tribal member. On many reservations, the chances of a women experiencing abuse are significantly higher, around 10%, than the national average. 

The group also brainstormed ideas on how to get all tribes on board to help find these missing cases around Washington. A problem the committee has run into is tribal cooperation from family members, board members and law enforcement. Due to a variety of cultural reasons and perhaps lack of trust, tribes are opting to handle missing cases on their own, unless the case is ruled a homicide in which the FBI takes over. The groups current goal is to present an estimated number of Washington MMIW to the state by June 2019.

Tribes are also limited in resources as well as access to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), the FBI’s database, which includes records of missing persons. Many times a missing person case will not be entered into NCIC due to limited access and the fact the person is over eighteen. Many people aren’t flagged as missing because adults often take solo journeys to escape the everyday grind and there is no evidence of foul play. 

“I wanted to share some current information about NCIC in Washington State,” says Washington State Patrol Missing and Unidentified Persons Unit Manager, Carri Gordon. “Right now we have 1,841 missing person records active records in Washington. Of those 1,841 about 90% of those missing persons are runaway youth who run and return. Of those 1,841, 98 of those records were coded ethnicity-wise as being Native American. That’s assuming that the ethnicity was reported correctly and entered correctly.”

Carri went on to explain that investigators are not required to indicate the victims race and more than not investigators confuse Indian Americans for Native Americans, so the number of missing Indigenous women in Washington maybe a lot higher than the 98 reported in the NCIC. If this is true in the State of Washington, thousands of cases could be very well underreported nationwide. 

In 2015, Canada conducted a similar study and were able to close many cases but hundreds of women are still missing and hundreds of murders are still unsolved. Canada believes that their true number of MMIW cases are over 4,000 and experts believe the United States is close behind, ranging between 1,000-4,000 cases nationwide. 

“This series is the first step to make sure we’re reaching out to each tribe individually or whichever way is most respectful,” says Mosbrucker. “Whether it’s a group convening or individually, we’re willing to do whatever that work is to report back a number to Washington State. I can’t fix congress, I can’t fix this issue nationally, but I can get us a number in Washington State that will serve as a model to fix it across congress and throughout the nation.”

The Washington State Patrol Tribal Community Outreach Tour will continue over the course of the next few months with the next meetings at the Snoqualmie Casino on October 15, Yakama Convention Center on October 29, and Little Creek Casino on November 8. For more information and to view HB2951 please visit

Raising Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News

“Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) are an epidemic in Washington State,” explained Earth-Feather Sovereign, a member of the Colville Confederated Tribes. “Washington State is 4th in the United States as having the most MMIW. I have two daughters, so I choose to not sit around and wait. Instead, I’m going to take action to try and make a better way for my children. There’s too many injustices going on with our Indigenous people. We should be the first thought, not the last thought.”

Earth-Feather coordinates the MMIW Washington group that aims to stop violence against Native women and children by advocating for social change in our communities. MMIW Washington recently worked with state legislatures to write a new state law that goes into effect in June. 

House Bill 2951 is designed to open up the reporting and data-gathering on missing Native women. By requiring Washington State Patrol to work with tribal law enforcements and the Governor’s Office of Indian Affairs to conduct a study, House Bill 2951 will increase state resources that are greatly needed to combat an epidemic of MMIW.

The National Crime Information Database reported 5,712 known incidents of missing and murdered Indigenous women in 2016, while a recent report from the National Institute of Justice found that more than four out of five Native women have experienced violence in their lives. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls homicide the third-leading cause of death among Native women ages 10 to 24. And the U.S. Department of Justice has reported Native women living on reservations are ten times more likely to be murdered than those who live off the reservation.

Earth-Feather, along with many members of MMIW Washington, visited the Tulalip Reservation on May 8th as part of their eight-day march from Blaine, Washington to Olympia. The occasion allowed them to meet with community members and provided an open invitation to all to walk in prayer for their Native sisters who have been murdered and gone missing. 

“Although a short notice, Tulalip Tribes made sure the group was honored with a meal and a place to sleep,” said Board of Director Marlin Fryberg, who greeted the MMIW Washington group as they arrived on the reservation. “Special thanks to Jen Maia for educating me on what MMIW is doing in North Dakota and helping me understand more about the cause and history. Awareness and education is key. Human trafficking has taken so many of our people across the nation and Canada. God bless everyone who has taken a stance.” 

Following the prayer walk and a blessing, the MMIW of Washington made their way to the Dining Hall where a large gathering of community members waited to hear about their mission and journey. An estimated fifty-five people were in attendance, including representatives from the Board, Youth Council and police department. Many of the women attendees dressed in red to support the MMIW movement. 

After everyone was treated to a catered dinner, they listened intently to the message, first-hand experience and call for action shared by their hosted guests. 

“As a people we must uplift our women who are at the bottom of the so-called totem pole because when our life givers are able to heal and become strong, then all our nations start to heal,” expressed Earth-Feather during her heartfelt, key-note address. “We come from warrior people, we still are warriors. To our young men: you are protectors. Our women and children are sacred and need to be protected.”

Tribal member Deborah Parker shared her Woman Warrior Song, which comes from First Nations sisters in British Columbia, and gifted several speakers with custom-made MMIW flags. The evening concluded with the MMIW of Washington members offering song and prayer for those have gone missing, those have lost love ones to murder, and for any women seeking strength. 

Women’s March 2018

Deborah Parker, Tulalip tribal member and committed cultural advocate, gives an opening speech at the Women’s March in Olympia.

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News; photos courtesy Theresa Sheldon and Matt Remle

On January 21, 2018, tens of thousands filled the streets of Seattle and Olympia to participate in the Women’s March. Many heard a rallying cry to action that Saturday morning, which coincided with the first anniversary of Donald Trump’s presidency.

The Women’s March is a women-led movement bringing together people of all genders, races, cultures, political affiliations, and backgrounds to affirm our shared humanity and pronounce a bold message of resistance and self-determination. Occurring in its second consecutive year, the highly anticipated Women’s March 2.0 created a powerful campaign to ignite thousands of activists and new leaders.

Theresa Sheldon, Tulalip Tribes Board of Director, (second from left) at the Women’s March.

Indigenous women led the marches in Seattle and Olympia, highlighting the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women (MMIW). The Indigenous presence, featuring hundreds of proud Natives wearing their traditional tribal regalia supporting families of MMIW victims in attendance, sought to bring awareness to the widespread cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and colonial gender-based violence in the United States and Canada.

“To my dear relatives, welcome to the Coash Salish territory. Thank you all for being here,” stated Deborah Parker, Tulalip tribal member and committed cultural advocate, in her opening speech. “We stand together united. We stand together with one heart, one mind. We will be singing the Women’s Warrior Song that comes from our First Nations sister’s in British Columbia. During the last verse we raise our fist in solidarity. We raise our fist and we honor the missing and murdered indigenous women from all over these lands. We remember our lost sisters, daughters, aunties, mothers, grandmothers and cousins.”

Indigenous women leading the march in Seattle.

Women’s March 2.0 marked one full year of the U.S. under Trump’s administration, which coincidentally was also the day the federal government shut down because of a budget impasse. The last 365-days has been a year filled with battles over women’s rights, immigration, and health care issues, but also gave rise to the #MeToo social media movement that aimed to demonstrate the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment.

“Absolutely amazing organizing Native women did across Turtle Island in bringing forth the issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, and bringing forward the families and loved ones of MMIW for support, healing, encouragement,” described Lakota tribal member and local Native American activist, Matt Remle. “I personally witnessed many tears shed, hugs shared, songs of encouragement sung and good medicine put forward. It was pretty emotional when the families who have had loved ones murdered or go missing were brought on stage to be acknowledged and lifted up. That’s how it should be, supporting, uplifting, encouraging and helping however best one can. That’s powerful and I have absolute love for our [women] across Turtle Island for doing this.”

Across the nation, hundreds of thousands of people gathered in city streets to peacefully demonstrate the power of women and showcase a desire for change. The issues, from reproductive rights to better representation of women of color to awareness for missing and murdered Indegeous women, were as varied as the sign-waving, pink-hat-wearing attendees. However, the​ ​implication was clear: women are poised to take power and they intend to.

Klayton Sheldon urged his mother, Theresa, to join the march.

“Tulalip Tribes was well represented in today’s Women’s March that was dedicated to our Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. Thankful to see leadership so active,” said Theresa Sheldon, Tulalip Tribes Board of Director, who was urged by her young son, Klayton, to attend the march. “This is the weekend we are remembering and commemorating our 1855 Point Elliott Treaty which was signed on January 22. It’s only appropriate that we take the time to acknowledge our ancestors and those who are still negatively impacted by all the forced federal policies that did not work, but caused great harm. We are resilient and we are healing and growing!”