MMIW National Day of Awareness Event Held at Oklahoma Capitol

OklahomaCrimeEventsCommunity Indigenous
Collaborator: Trista Vaughn
Published: 05/08/2024, 4:59 AM
Edited: 05/08/2024, 2:02 PM

(OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla.) Since 2010, May 5 has been recognized as a National Day of Awareness for the thousands of Indigenous people who go missing and are murdered every year.

What began as Red Dress Day in Canada is now an annual US Presidential proclamation to “increase awareness and address the issues of missing or murdered Indigenous persons through appropriate programs and activities”.

Government officials, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) advocates, and other members of the public gathered at the Oklahoma Capitol to show their support for Indigenous people on Monday. An opening prayer was followed by a Missing and Murdered Indigenous People (MMIP) memorial walk and a butterfly release.

Event speakers include MMIP State President Carmen Harvie, the state’s Oklahoma Native American Liaison Wes Nofire, Agent Joshua Patskowsky of Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, and State Representative Mickey Dollens (D-Oklahoma City).

“We need to listen to people who have been advocating for MMIW much longer than any of us lawmakers have,” said Dollens. “I am simply using my platform to amply their voices on a larger scale.”

Dollens said he is optimistic about MMIW awareness continuing to grow, aided by new legislation over the last few years, but acknowledged much work still remains. 

LaRenda Morgan, Governmental Affairs Officer Cheyenne Arapaho Tribes and Founder and Board Chair of Cheyenne and Arapaho MMIP Chapter, worked with Dollens on some of that legislation. In particular, Ida’s Law.

“I spoke at an American Indian Movement rally at the Oklahoma State Capitol in 2017,” Morgan said. “I spoke about two MMIW cases, one case was my cousin Ida Beard and one was Lisa Pennington and Cheryl Genzer (OK State Fair Murders). Their parents were my neighbors growing up in El Reno and their mother Charlotte Pennington was Cheyenne Arapaho.”

Beard, a Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribal member from Oklahoma, went missing in 2015. Ida's Law, or Senate Bill 172, was enacted in her honor and became law in 2021. The law established an Office of Liaison for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons inside the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation to work with local, tribal, and federal law enforcement organizations. 

There are currently 84 Indigenous people on Oklahoma's missing list in NamUs, the federal missing person database maintained by the US Department of Justice.

Advocates worry that number is much higher. 

Oklahoma City was one of the top ten cities in the nation for the number of cases of murdered and missing Indigenous women that were not reported to law enforcement in 2018, according to a report from the Urban Indian Health Institute. 

It’s part of a nationwide trend of underreporting. Numbers from the National Crime Information Center showed 5,712 American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls were reported missing in 2016. Meanwhile only 116 cases were recorded in NamUs that year.

Morgan said MMIW events like those on Monday are important for visibility.

“Events like today make sure that we do not forget the people who still are missing or who still do not have justice,” Morgan said.

She said her advocacy for MMIW and Ida’s Law is an extension of the American Indian Movement (AIM), a grassroots movement for Indigenous rights that began in the sixties. 

“I once called an AIM leader Clyde Bellecourt for guidance on advocacy and he told me ‘You have a voice, use it! You don’t need someone else to stand up for you or your family or people, you do it!’” Morgan said. “He was very fierce.”

The Kasey Alert, or House Bill 1077, was another Oklahoma law recently enacted in honor of a missing Indigenous woman. Kasey Russell, a 29-year-old Cherokee Nation Citizen, went missing in 2016. The alert system was created for adults 18-59 who are critically missing, with unknown whereabouts and are believed to be abducted. 

Just six Kasey Alerts have been issued since HB1077 became law in November 2023. 

Those wanting to stay updated on Oklahoma’s missing Indigenous people are encouraged to follow the state’s MMIP Chapters on Facebook.


This story has no comments yet