The disappearance of Native American women in the U.S. is a crisis that’s been ignored for decades.
But tribes here in northern Michigan are working to change that.
Gregory Petoskey still has fond memories of his sister Karen.
“She was a roughneck, like to dance, saying she loved her kids and family. She was always here on the holidays,” said Gregory.
But Karen’s life was tragically cut short in August of 1999, and her murder remains unsolved 23 years later.
“I was two years old when this devastation had happened in my family. And I do remember all the crying. And I remember, you know, I remember parts. I remember going to Grand Rapids and putting signs up around the city like, have you seen this person? Do you know anything about what happened to her,” said Karen’s niece Beedoskah Stonefish.
Stories like Karen’s are not unique to the Native American community.
Native American women are killed and go missing at 10 times the national average, but only 2%of these cases receive federal attention and less than 5% get some kind of national media attention.
“It’s a hard subject to talk about because there isn’t any coverage in the media and it’s hard for our communities to talk about because we don’t really know how to navigate the justice system sometimes,” said Victoria Alfonseca, Communications Coordinator/Editor for the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians.
But tribes are working to change those statistics. The Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians recently held red shirt day in an effort to draw attention to the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women.
“I think there is some disadvantages in this community, and we may not have the publicity that other people nonnative people have to get the word out to say, oh, they’re missing or this is what happened,” said Stonefish.
The tribe also lined part of M-22 near Suttons Bay with red shirts.
“So when you see red, it’s, it’s out there, right? It’s a message of like that blood that we shed for our people,” said Alfonseca.
The issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women has plagued Native American tribes for years, but the hope is events like this help bring about much needed change.
“That singing and the drumming really does have healing powers and our sacred fires have healing powers. So we hope this will help start conversations with our community members and help bring healing to their hearts, because there is a lot of pain here,” said Stonefish.
“I think everybody needs to continue to speak their mind on these issues. And don’t forget about those loved ones that have been missing or have been murdered, because we’re doing this, because this happened to them. We’re trying to put a stop to this and if we can all work together, come together, both native and non-Native communities, we can make this nation better again,” said Alfonseca.