Special Report: Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Awareness Day

A decorative image with a black background, blue and green flowers on the left that says The Mission Within Special Report.

[Content Notice: Today’s post deals with a very difficult and tragic topic, specifically that of the missing and murdered indigenous, or MMI women, girls, men, boys, and non-binary. If this is something you need to take into consideration, I encourage you to skip this post. If you decide to move forward, and it brings up difficult feelings for you, I encourage you to reach out to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline.]

Everybody knows that today is Cinco de Mayo, and that means a celebration involving Tex-Mex cuisine and variations thereof. While that’s great, I’d like to take today as an opportunity to highlight another day of observance.

Today is National Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Awareness Day. The tragedy of missing and murdered indigenous women, or MMIW has also been expanded to include the missing men, girls, boys, trans, and non-binary members of indigenous communities throughout Indian Country.

The statistics for both Canada and the U.S. are few and far between, and the racial disparity between Native American and First Nations people, and those of other ethnicities plays a role. Often, cases where a loved one within these communities goes missing (or worse), it falls through the cracks. What few statistics exist are several years old, and don’t include those identifying as LGBT.

What we know is only the tip of the iceberg, and that’s a whole other layer to this tragedy.

Evidence handling is another factor, since in a lot of cases, the forensic evidence ends up mishandled or not collected at all. As a result, the case goes cold, and isn’t forwarded to other law enforcement agencies.

Another contributor to instances where a loved one in their community goes missing and it goes unreported is that reservation authorities don’t always have the ability to prosecute outsiders due to the currently existing federal legislation. However, the renewed Violence Against Women Act of 2013 gave tribal law enforcement agencies the ability to pursue domestic violence felonies involving both locals and outsiders living on the reservations, so it’s a step in the right direction.

In 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice recognized National Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Awareness Day, after the former president signed an executive order to implement Operation Lady Justice. In 2021, President Biden formally declared today’s observance, and issued a proclamation with plans for expansion going forward.

Deb Haaland, of the Laguna Pueblo Nation and head of the Department of the Interior, set up the Missing and Murdered Unit to allocate funds and resources toward reservation law enforcement and government agencies to help bring perpetrators to justice, hold them accountable for their crimes, bring missing loved ones home, and provide closure for grieving families.

If anyone here is familiar with the 2002 movie Skins, it was Misty Upham’s first movie, where she played the role of Mrs. Blue Cloud. She went on to star in several other TV movies, feature films, and on HBO’s Big Love. In October 2014, Misty went missing, and people in her community got together and organized a search party to find her and bring her home safe.

Later that same month, her remains were found in a wooded area close to where they’d looked for her early on. Misty had struggled with mental and emotional trauma from a history of abuse growing up, and at the hands of a member of the inner circle of a certain now-former Hollywood movie mogul has-been who’s currently rotting in jail where he belongs.

Misty’s life ended far too soon, and what happened to her is a tragedy on so many levels. It also speaks to the fact that for every one person’s disappearance that makes it in the mainstream news media, there’s at least one other disappearance that goes unheard of beyond their communities and their families.

So what can we do to help? Great question! Other than wearing red to show our solidarity and support, we can provide signal boosts, and we can amplify the voices of family members and communities for MMI women, girls, boys, men, trans, and non-binary people. The Auburn Examiner has a list of ways to show support.

For instance, mother of four Rita Janelle Papakee was last seen leaving the Meskwaki Bingo Casino in 2015. She was 41 at the time of her disappearance. Her family reported her missing that same year when she didn’t show up to pick up her paycheck, which was definitely out of character for her. It’s been six years since she went missing, so let’s make this the year we bring her home. Her family deserves answers, and more importantly, deserves her safe return. If anyone reading this has seen someone matching her description, do the right thing and contact the Meskwaki Nation Police Department.

Over to you, readers. What’s been your takeaway from this? How are you honoring today? Do you know of someone who’s gone missing, and want to give their communities a signal boost to get the word out? Share it below, and let’s talk.


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