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Navajo Prep students raise awareness of MMIW epidemic, call for action

Sam Ribakoff
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON – Navajo Preparatory School’s Eagles Nest gym was packed with girls basketball fans on the night of Feb. 20 as Prep’s Lady Eagles played against Tohatchi High School’s Lady Cougars.

Four students from Prep’s Naat'áani Youth Council’s Cultural Committee stepped onto the court at halftime, their faces covered with painted red hand prints, and gave a stirring speech in both English and Navajo about the epidemic of cases, often unsolved, involving murdered and missing indigenous women.

“Eighty-four percent of American Indian and Alaskan Native women experience violence in their lifetime,” said Navajo Prep 10th grader and member of the Naat'áani Youth Council’s Cultural Committee Kierra Ford during the halftime presentation, “it’s the highest rate of the nation.”

Citing a study published in 2016 in the National Institute of Justice’s research journal entitled “Violence Against American Indian and Alaska Native Women and Men,” the students joined activists around the U.S. and Canada who are trying to bring awareness to thousands of cases of missing, abducted and murdered indigenous women reported in the U.S. and Canada.

From right to left; Kierra Ford, Ajah-Rain Yellowhair, Lexie Quintana and Sahale James, members of Navajo Preparatory School’s Naat'áani Youth Council’s Cultural Committee, prepare to give a presentation on the murdered and missing indigenous women epidemic during halftime of a Prep basketball game at Navajo Prep's Eagles Nest gym in Farmington on Feb. 20, 2020.

A study published in 2018 by the Urban Indian Health Institute called “Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls,” reported 10 active and unsolved MMIW related cases in the Farmington area.

At the end of the students’ presentation, Navajo Prep 10th grader and Cultural Committee member Ajah-Rain Yellowhair requested audience members take off their hats and stand for a moment of silence.

“No more stolen sisters!” Yellowhair said after the moment of silence ended, as other members of the Naat'áani Youth Council and Navajo Prep’s Eagle mascot gathered around her and began to raise their fists in the air.

“Please remember to look out for one another. Our women are important. We are important. Indigenous lives matter!” Yellowhair said to roaring applause.

Yellowhair said the presentation was inspired by a senior colloquium presentation a former Navajo Prep student made last year about MMIW issues. She said that presentation caused her to start researching the topic and telling her peers in the Cultural Committee about it.

At the same time, Navajo Prep’s Assistant Dean of Instruction, Athletic Director and girls basketball team head coach Rainy Crisp and her basketball team were interested in doing something to raise awareness about the issue as well.

Members of Navajo Preparatory School's girls basketball team stand and show shirts in support of awareness of the MMIW epidemic at Navajo Prep's Eagles Nest gym in Farmington on Feb. 20, 2020.

After researching the subject and seeing coverage of the Ignacio High School girls basketball team’s efforts to raise awareness of the issue, Crisp said her team was inspired to do something.

“It hit them,” Crisp said, “It was just very important to them.”     

After the Naat'áani Youth Council’s Cultural Committee announced they would give a 45-minute presentation on MMIW issues to students at Navajo Prep hours before Prep’s game against Tohatchi, Yellowhair, who’s on Prep’s girls basketball C-team, and the Cultural Committee were given permission to present a condensed version of their presentation at the Prep and Tohatchi game on Feb. 20.

Before the game Prep’s basketball team wore red shirts with white hand prints across the front, and the words “strong, resilient, indigenous” written on the back.

“We wanted to have something to show our support,” Crisp said, “I didn’t want something just for looks. It’s just not for show, it’s something we researched and we’re passionate about.”

After the presentation, members of the Cultural Committee said they were proud of the support they received and positive that their message got through to the audience.

Yellowhair said she wants to continue raising awareness of MMIW issues by writing a play on the subject or something “visual so you can see it for yourself,” she said.

Crisp said the basketball team doesn’t have any further plans to raise awareness of the issue other than continuing to wear the MMIW shirts to games.

“They’ve really taken this to heart,” Crisp said, referring to her basketball team. “It goes a little deeper than just basketball.”        

Sam Ribakoff is a visual journalist for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-333-5283 or via email at sribakoff@daily-times.com.