'Where are our women and girls?': Walk brings MMIWG issue to Shiprock
SHIPROCK — Despite soaking rain, a group walking along U.S. Highway 64 remained steadfast on heightening awareness here about missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.
Some women were dressed in red skirts adorned with ribbons – red is the color associated with the movement to address cases involving missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada and the United States – and several participants wore red T-shirts with the phrase "Hááji nihi Diné asdzáni dóó at ééké?" on the front.
The words in the Navajo language translate as "where are our women and girls?" in English.
The walk from the Northern Navajo Medical Center to the Navajo Nation Shopping Center on May 23 was the latest by the Navajo Nation Strengthening Families Program.
This month the program has been educating community members about the issue, also known by the acronyms MMIW and MMIWG.
The issue has been gaining traction since starting in Canada in response to the thousands of missing and murdered First Nations women and girls.
While it is unknown how many Native American women and girls have been abducted or murdered in the United States, the National Indigenous Women's Resource Center reports that Native women suffer from violence at a rate two and a half times greater than that of any other population in America.
Trudy Tsosie is the principal victim witness advocate for the Strengthening Families Program office in Shiprock.
The program started in October 2016 under the tribe's Division of Social Services. It is an advocacy and awareness program for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, family violence, dating violence and human trafficking.
Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty tasked the program last year to develop awareness events surrounding the MMIWG issue.
The employees – situated in four offices across the reservation – coordinated the walks in Crownpoint, Tuba City, Chinle, Shiprock and Window Rock as an outlet for community members to talk about the situation.
"We're coming together as a community, as a program (and) other agencies to make awareness that it's here. It's happening, so let's get the word out. Let's get prevention going," Tsosie said.
The prevention effort centers on public education that shares information about personal safety, talking about MMIWG with family members, and reporting information to the police.
Among the barriers is that no tribal agency maintains accurate information for missing persons on or from the Navajo Nation, Tsosie said.
"Right now, there's nobody that's following up on these cases. There's no exact data," she said adding Delegate Crotty is attempting to implement data collection and determining who should be responsible for those records.
The tribe is not alone in trying to address the issue, bills that center on missing and murdered Native women, violence against Native women and addressing the informational gap have been introduced in Congress.
These measures propose actions such as sharing records across law enforcement agencies, developing a task force with membership including law enforcement and tribal members, and increasing funds to tribes for public safety.
Daughter shares story about missing mom
The group huddled underneath a small white tent after arriving to the shopping center's parking lot.
As the rain continued, they listened to Shiprock resident Michelle Frank talk about her mother, Julia Vicente.
It will be one year on June 3 since Vicente disappeared while walking to a friend's house on the east side of Shiprock.
"It still hurts that she's still missing, everyday you're wondering," Frank said.
Wearing a black T-shirt with "Justice for MMIW" on it, she explained the family's ongoing effort to share information and to search for Vicente.
"I'm hoping that one day we'll get answers," Frank said.
Anyone with information regarding the disappearance of Julia Vicente is asked to call San Juan County Crime Stoppers at 505-334-8477.
Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.