Bethel turns out for Missing and Murdered Indigenous People’s Awareness day
Men and women dressed in red. Alaska State Troopers, search and rescue, police, and firefighters came in uniform. People had signs reading “we stand as one,” “no more missing sisters” and “Native hope.” Others had red handprints painted on their bodies and t-shirts.
And they were met with honks of approval as they marched down Eddie Hoffman Memorial Highway for Missing and Murdered Indigenous People’s day.
“It felt good,” said organizer Staci Aloralrea of the Tundra Women’s Coalition. I had a lot of energy and I was waving at people and trying to let people honk, you know.”
Lingering attendees painted messages like “no one should be missing” on t-shirts that will be hung outside the women’s shelter as part of the Clothesline Project, a nationwide initiative encouraging support for domestic violence survivors.
Alaska Native women suffer from disproportionately high rates of sexual violence. They are ten times more likely to be killed by men than white women in Alaska.
During the march, Trooper Zack Huckstep spoke about the importance of the day to show people they’ll be supported if they speak up about crimes.
“This is important to give people not just for awareness, but visually see that other people are there to support them,” he said.
They also found many people in villages don’t trust law enforcement. Many have seen crimes that were never investigated. Many don’t have permanent law enforcement.
The majority of MMIP cases go unsolved.
Huckstep said hearing from the community gives legs to the process of justice. Often when his team shows up in villages because of reported crimes.
“There's like two or three or four more people that come out to say that they also have been victimized,” he said. “But they won't say that until you get there. Until they see that there's other people also in support of them.”
He said troopers also have a responsibility to be a stable presence in communities.
“I’ve been here for seven years, in this position,” he said. “And having people have a recognizable face and be familiar with people is really important to allow that trust to take hold.”
Before the march, the crowd heard from the organizers. City Council member Sophie Swope read the city’s proclamation. It commits Bethel to proactively collaborating to strengthen intervention and prevention efforts.
Half-way through the event, the speakers ditched the megaphone, and ushered everyone closer. Snow began to stick in peoples hair, and then they stood shoulder to shoulder.
At least 80% of the people living on the Y-K Delta are Alaska Native. Many have experienced sexual violence. The vast majority have experienced physical violence. Native Alaskan men and women are some of the most at-risk populations, and least likely to get justice.
Monica Charles from Bethel’s women’s shelter spoke to the crowd huddling around her.
“It has been a long time coming to have the acknowledgement that someone from a lesser background, from a smaller community, from a village, from a single parent or being raised by grandparents from a native background– that they are forgotten. Every voice that cannot be heard because they are silenced way too early at the hand of another person, be it native or non native. It's not right.”
Charles said she wants to remember lost community members for more than their tragic absence. But with red hand prints stamped across faces, and a crisp cold biting exposed fingers, people were remembered that should be here, and are not.
Vivian Korthuis, the CEO of the Association of Village Council Presidents expressed hope the federal government's 2019 bill signed into law to establish best practices for state, tribal, and federal coordination to combat the epidemic.
“For too long, the national crisis of missing and murdered indigenous peoples has been overlooked and underfunded.” Korthius said. “My hope is that the recent site visits to the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta by the Not Invisible Act Commission will include in its report to Congress, what they have witnessed firsthand, about all the issues in our region regarding public safety, prevention services, shelters, search and rescue, first responders and MMIP.”
Charles said she wants to remember lost community members for more than their tragic absence. But with red hand prints stamped across faces, and a cold biting exposed fingers, people were remembered that should be here, and are not.