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Thousands March For Missing And Murdered Indigenous People

State Officials Unveil License Plate Supporting Cause.

On Valentine’s Day, actions were staged throughout several Minnesota cities and  Indian reservations to memorialize Indigenous people who are missing, or have been murdered. Minneapolis, Duluth, Bemidji, Fargo-Moorhead, Mahnomen on the White Earth  Indian Reservation and the Red Lake Indian Reservation all organized events including opportunities for family members to speak of their lost loved ones and the community to show support.

Nearly 300 braved the cold weather in Bemidji on Wednesday, also recognized as the Day of  Remembrance for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives, to hear organizers and family members speak of lost relatives and their efforts to prevent future cases of missing, or murdered, people. Local singers sang honor songs of lost relatives and organizers invited the public to come shake hands and hug the families of those who have lost relatives.

Audrianna Goodwin, a Red Lake Ojibwe citizen and public policy advocate with a Master’s  Degree from University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, introduced  Wednesday’s event in Bemidji by sharing with participants that organizers have been gathering to pay tribute to families who have lost missing relatives for the last 8 years. “This is something that all of us as a community all feel, we all experience it,” she said while introducing  Wednesday’s event in downtown Bemidji. “We lost a relative in this lake [Lake Bemidji] a few years ago and it’s something that we all hold near and dear to our hearts. We all grieve it.”

In addition to holding gathering spaces, advocates say that have been calling out allies for help, or for other agencies to take missing Indigenous people seriously. “Some of our allies are here today, they’re hearing us,” Goodwin said while acknowledging the increased support with local organizers.

This year, for the first time, dozens of downtown businesses hung up window stickers of a red jingle dress showing their solidarity with Indigenous communities and addressing missing peoples in the region. “A lot of us don’t go in these stores, but when we see signs of solidarity,  it gives us hope that people are listening to us,” said, Wenona Kingbird, a Leech Lake Ojibwe citizen and MMIW218 organizer to LRI Media.

Tina Smith-Savage, from Minnesota’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives Office,  announced at Wednesday’s gathering that the state is launching a new license plate that features a black ribbon skirt with the four sacred colors (black, white, red, and yellow) and a red handprint over a silhouette of a woman wearing a braid. According to Minnesota Driver and  Vehicle Services, the plate costs $15.50 and requires a minimum annual contribution of $25 to the Gaagige-Mikwendaagoziwag Reward Account. The account was created as a result of legislation signed into law in 2021 by Minnesota Governor Tim Walz, where Minnesota established the first office in the nation that is focused on missing Indigenous people. Funds generated will create awareness campaigns to cases of missing Indigenous people, preventing future cases, and may utilize funds to create rewards that lead to a conviction or the discovery of an individual.

“The license plate is made to bring awareness and visibility to MMIR cases in Minneapolis,  Bemidji, Duluth, and throughout our state and Tribal Nations,” Tina Smith-Savage at  Wednesday’s gathering in Bemidji. “Funds from the reward account will bring awareness to  cases, education the public and prevent further cases.”

The state is not the first to dedicate a special license plate aiming to address missing  Indigenous peoples in state, though. The Bois Forte Band of Chippewa, Fond du Lac Band of  Lake Superior Chippewa and the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians have specialty plates addressing missing Indigenous peoples. Wisconsin and the Canadian  Province of Manitoba also have special plates raising awareness of the issue.

Minnesota is unique in regards to criminal jurisdiction on Tribal lands. Minnesota is a Public  Law 280 State, where the state assumes jurisdiction to arrest and prosecute major crimes such as violent crimes when committed on Tribal lands except for the Red Lake Indian Reservation.  Felony crimes committed on the Red Lake Indian Reservation by any person, enrolled in federally recognized tribe or not, are investigated and prosecuted by the federal government.

In the last year, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension reported six Indigenous victims of homicide or non-negligent manslaughter in the state, which accounts for 4.41% of all reported homicides or non-negligent manslaughters. It is unclear if the total includes the  Red Lake Indian Reservation.

Theresa Jourdain spoke of dealing with authorities regarding her the disappearance of her son,  Jeremy Jourdain. “Each time I meet with law enforcement I ask them if they followed up on a tip to see them look at each other and respond that they didn’t,” Theresa Jourdain said. “Well,  why not?” Wednesday’s gathering is Jourdain’s second time speaking publicly of her missing son. Last year was her first time speaking in a public setting.

Wednesday’s events through Minnesota brought crowds in the hundreds, where for a day people carried signs and sang songs to continue to raise awareness that Indigenous people are valued.

This reporting was supported by the International Women’s Media Foundation https://www.iwmf.org/

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