Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - Hundreds in Juneau dressed in red and painted their hands and faces red to symbolize the silence surrounding missing and murdered Indigenous people. They called and pled for more action to be taken.
Above: Bamby Kinville-James leads a song during the rally Friday evening.
This was referenced as the fifth or sixth annual rally that took place on the Capitol steps Friday evening.
Many people, including Alaska Native elders, delegates, and advocates spoke in remembrance of their missing and murdered loved ones.
"Respect for each other also comes from this. Whatever is in progress, like now, we are standing together because we are respecting each other, and caring for one another. We look for each other for support," Paul Marks said.
Leona Santiago, a Tlingit and Haida elder and survivor of violence, shared information provided by the Native Hope, "The National Crime Information Center reports that, in 2016, there were 5,712 reports of missing American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls, though the US Department of Justice’s federal missing person database, NamUs, only logged 116 cases."
She also explained a red hand over the mouth represents "all the missing sisters and brothers whose voices are not heard and the silence of media and law enforcement in the midst of this crisis."
The murder rate is ten times higher than the national average for women living on reservations, and murder is the third leading cause of death for Native women, according to the Urban Indian Health Institute.
Santiago added that no number of statistics could express the deep grief felt by people missing their loved ones.
"This is now a plea," Santiago stressed. "Us women have to look out for each other."
While women and girls are the primary victims of violence, men, boys, infants, and the elderly also experience violence. Santiago said, "women have to look out for each other, but we need the men looking out for us too. We need to look out for each other."
"As horrific as cruel, cold statistics are, statistics just scratch the surface. It doesn't tell the whole story," Juneau Police Department Deputy Chief David Campbell said. "When you're talking about crime, specifically about issues with missing and murdered Indigenous people, it's not a crime of one, it's a crime of many. The people that suffered these crimes, they are a part of our community."
He said the most important thing is to let the police department know as soon as possible.
"If you know something, say something, no matter how small, you never know if that little nugget of information is gonna be the key for an investigation," he said.
JPD takes anonymous tips through their website, juneaucrimeline.com. They also have an anonymous call line at 907-523-7700.
The Central Council of Tlingit and Haida's third vice president, and the Co-Chair for the Violence Against Women task force, Catherine Edwards, also spoke.
"She's somebody. She's somebody to us, and make sure we are saying her name, that we are speaking their names, and that we keep pushing," Edwards called out.
She also addressed the crowd, the crowd who held signs and wore red, to look around them.
"They told us nationally they had 300 cases. Look around you; there's more than 300 cases here alone," she said. "...Then they tell us, they closed 186 of them. They prosecuted three. For me, those numbers don't work."
Representative Andi Story, Representative Sara Hannan, Representative Maxine Dibert, and Senator Jesse Kiehl also spoke to recognize the nationally observed day.
Juneau Rep. Story thanked the community for keeping law makers and law enforcement accountable.
"It is really powerful to stand up here and see all of you standing up for justice, for our missing community members. To stand in solidarity with their relatives and their family members," Rep. Story said. "It is so important that you are here and that statewide, people are doing the same thing, standing up here for Missing Murdered Indigenous Peoples Awareness Day."
Rep. Story commented on their progress, adding that "it's not enough."
"Last year I was at this event, and we had our investigator, our first investigator that was assigned to address this issue. This year, we have a second investigator, and there is more funding being proposed for more," she said. "That's what we need is people who are going to give attention to this issue and families to have someone that they can communicate with...We must continue to push to make sure these things are funded."
Alaska State Senator Kiehl also gave a speech.
"In your Capitol, the building behind us, your state Capitol, we see you, we hear you, we're working...Senator Donny Olson from Golovin has added the funding for a prosecutor for cases for missing and murdered Indigenous people," Senator Jesse Kiehl said. "You need to know that we have legislation that passed the Senate was heard yesterday [Thursday] in the House Committee to protect the addresses of people who've escaped domestic violence, sexual assault, from stalking, from these crimes, so that their assailants cannot find them again, so they get safety. You need to know that we know it's not enough yet, and that we will continue working. We know responding to violence, to rape, that responding to people who just seem to disappear is not enough. It's only a start."
Rep. Dibert was introduced at the rally as the only Indigenous woman serving in the Alaska legislature. She represents downtown Fairbanks, where she grew up.
"I'm so proud that we started this movement of the red hand covering our mouths which allows Native people in our community to stand up, to be a voice for the voiceless, and I am just happy that this has started, that we say no more stolen brothers and no more stolen sisters in our community," Rep. Dibert said. "I'm just honored to be in the legislature. We need our many entities to come together to fight this crisis in our state. We need the federal government, the state government, we need our education system, our non-profits, all of these entities to come together to work for our communities."
Above: Rep. Dibert (right) speaks with her painted red hand raised. Her other hand holds Rep Hannan's (left) hand. Below: Jeni Brown, who works with Tlingit and Haida’s Violence Against Women Task Force, and who helped organize the rally, asks for answers. (Photo credit Jasz Garrett/KINY)
Rep. Dibert added that they are moving forward by having this national day to come together on May 5. She said that in the state of Alaska, there is the MMIGW2S working group to create events like the rally, the Governor's Council is now on MIP, along with the two investigators helping solve the "horrific events happening in our state."
She also noted that in 2020, the Savanna's Act was signed into federal law, which improves the federal response.
The Savanna’s Act and Not Invisible Act work to improve the federal government’s response through increased coordination, development of best practices, and creation of a joint commission on violent crime.
"As the only Alaska Native woman in the legislature, I look forward to working with my colleagues, and all of these entities to come up with solutions," Rep. Dibert shared.
Above: Santiago reads statistics. Below: Rep. Story gives her speech. (Photo credit Jasz Garrett/KINY)
Above: Marks speaks on lifting their people up. Below: People stand with signs, shirts, and missing persons posters. (Photo credit Jasz Garrett/KINY)
Above: Edwards gives her speech. Below: Kinville-James leads a song. (Photo credit Jasz Garrett/KINY)
Above: Senator Jesse Kiehl. Below: JPD Deputy Chief Campbell.
Below: People march down Seward Street. (Photo credit Jasz Garrett/KINY)