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Bethel organizes 3rd annual MMIP March for Justice

Carey Atchak speaks to members of the community at the start of the march for Missing and Murdered Indigenous People on May 5, 2023 in Bethel, Alaska.
Gabby Salgado
Carey Atchak speaks to members of the community at the start of the march for Missing and Murdered Indigenous People on May 5, 2023 in Bethel, Alaska.

It’s the National Week of Action for Missing and Murdered Indigenous People (MMIP).

In Bethel, local organizations are coming together to host the community’s third annual MMIP March for Justice.

Joy Anderson is a member of the march’s planning committee and works for Alaska Legal Services Corporation. “The march it's really – when people participate is an acknowledgment that it's not any one person's issue to solve, but really, everyone in the community is responsible to make sure that we see this crisis in our region,” Anderson said during an interview with KYUK’s MaryCait Dolan on local morning show Coffee at KYUK on April 25.

Alaska Native people, especially Alaska Native women, experience higher rates of violence than non-Native people. Indigenous women in Alaska are 10 times more likely to be murdered by a man than their white neighbors. Thousands of cases of missing or murdered Indigenous people have gone unsolved, or uninvestigated.

Roxanne Saddler is the manager of the Association of Village Council Presidents (AVCP) tribal justice program and is also on the march planning committee.

“In our region, we have so many people who travel on the river, you know, who come from villages for doctor's appointments. There's a lot of reasons why people end up in Bethel,” Saddler said. “And I think the biggest awareness and prevention is to teach your kids and your family a healthy lifestyle, and talk to your kids and talk to your young adults about making good choices, and that your choices affect the outcome, not just for yourself, but for other people that care about you.”

Bethel’s 2024 MMIP March will kick off with speakers, and organizers say community organizations will have giveaways at the march.

Saddler said the event has enjoyed wide local support.

“Last year, the City of Bethel did a proclamation for MMIP, recognizing MMIP as May 5, that was very empowering and very touching,” Saddler said. “So this year, we're just carrying on with the walk and support, you know, for our region that no family or persons are alone in this.”

But Saddler said that support doesn’t have to be limited to people physically in Bethel for this year’s march.

“We're also encouraging tribal communities – if you are not from Bethel, and you want to participate from another community, please reach out to us and just show your support for the walk in your community,” Saddler said.

Beyond the walk, organizations throughout the state of Alaska are working to create solutions. Community organizations are pushing for better community resources and a change to the reporting and accountability systems on MMIP cases. A bill working its way through the state legislature this session would kick off that change, and would establish a state Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Review Commission to increase transparency and accountability on MMIP cases.

Anderson said her own organization, the Alaska Legal Services Corporation (ALSC), is working to be a part of the solution to the epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous People.

“We support tribal courts in strengthening their justice systems through ALSC programs, and also represent individuals, survivors of domestic violence, to help them have the legal resources they need to get out of those kinds of situations,” Anderson said.

Bethel’s 2024 MMIP March is scheduled to start at the AVCP Family Services Center at 12:15 p.m. on Friday, May 3. The route will follow the highway to the Joe Lomack building. Whether or not people attend the march, Saddler said people should consider supporting the cause by dressing the part as well.

“Red is the identifying color for MMIP. So in support of the MMIP walk, we're asking everybody to wear red,” Saddler said.

Before the walk, organizers will also host a poster-making event at the Family Services Center from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Wednesday, May 1.

KYUK's MaryCait Dolan contributed to this reporting.

Sage Smiley is KYUK's news director.