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“A step towards healing”: MMIP advocate shares her story and perspective on the crisis

Nicole Wagon in a red baseball cap.
Nicole Wagon
/
Wyoming Public Media
Nicole Wagon is a mother, grandmother, and advocate working to raise awareness about the MMIP crisis.

Nicole Wagon is a Northern Arapaho advocate, raising awareness about the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Crisis, or MMIP. Wagon lost two of her daughters to the crisis in the span of a year. Wyoming Public Radio’s Hannah Habermann spoke with Wagon about the state’s MMIP task force, the motorcycle group Medicine Wheel Riders, and what keeps Wagon going as she continues to fight for justice.

This copy has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity. 

Hannah Habermann: Nicole, thank you for taking the time to talk today. Would you start by just sharing some background information on what the MMIP crisis is for those who might be less familiar?

Nicole Wagon: The MMIP crisis stands for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons – we have an epidemic that needs our attention. How can we assist others to have their loved ones' voices be heard, get boots on the ground when people are missing? How can we help to locate them and to make sure that they're safe?

My daughter Jocelyn Watt was murdered in 2019. My second eldest Jade Wagon went missing and was found in 2020. I've been invested and committed to MMIP, and then I'm on the MMIP task force for the state of Wyoming.

We had a meeting a couple weeks ago, and we're talking about – there's no list, right? So a lot of people feel left out when they're not invited. How do we reach out to those people? How do we encourage them? Because it's not easy, letting their loved ones’ voices be heard? How can we help and assist the MMIP families and survivors?

Personally, I have no list, all I can do is keep on reaching out. I have MMIPwindriver.org, and with that I keep on encouraging people to email us your loved ones – it's a start.

HH: Thank you for sharing that, your strength is incredible and I’m so sorry for your losses. I would love to hear a little bit more about the task force and what you all have been up to in the last year – what things are you all working on in addition to creating this list of contacts to bring more people together?

NW: Yeah, we meet quarterly. So if you have a good idea – share it. You never know, right? So for example, Roxanne White out of the state of Washington – she's a huge advocate for MMIP. We were talking and they had a red alert going on in Washington. So we had a meeting and I brought it up to Cara Chambers, the MMIP Task Force director and said ‘How come Wyoming doesn't have a red alert?’

And Cara and Emily Grant out of University of Wyoming made it happen with the rest of the state. Emily found the Ashanti Alert that already existed, so we didn't have to reinvent the wheel. So that's how the Ashanti Alert came to fruition for the state of Wyoming, to be able to have those alerts out for anybody 18 and over.

And within the [Wind River] Reservation, we are having a red dress and red shirt MMIP special for this coming Northern Arapaho tribe powwow. So that will be held, I believe, on September 1. And that’s, of course, embracing our culture and trying to implement healing. So we're just trying to get different ideas to keep the momentum going throughout the year. So there's a lot, but one step at a time, we'll get there.

HH: Speaking of events, last week the Medicine Wheel Riders came through Riverton and also through Worland. Could you share a little bit about who this group is and what it was like to go to one of these community events?

NW: Absolutely, they're getting bigger and better as well. I call them Native Warriors. A lot of the ladies that ride, their loved one is missing, or their loved one has been murdered, and my heart hurts for them. I can't even imagine never being able to find your loved one and [not] lay them to rest. And for these ladies they came out, bringing awareness – they had 175 riders in Sturgis, they touch everybody's lives and heal them, give them a glimmer of hope – you're not alone in this and we're here to support one another and love one another through this. And to make it better, safe again.

They have a documentary as well called “We Ride for Her.” And I was so honored – we viewed it at the last Riding for Resilience Medicine Wheel event on the Wind River Reservation. My daughter Jade Wagon is in that documentary – so I'm very blessed and thankful that they're helping me for my daughter's voice to be heard.

HH: It seems like these sort of events, like the Medicine Wheel Riders coming through the reservation – these are incredible moments of feeling in [the] community. As you continue to advocate and seek justice for Jade, what keeps you going and what gives you hope?

NW: Did you hear the little noises in the background? Those are my grandkids – that's what keeps me going and gives me hope. My daughter's spirit Jade lives through her kids, and they’re sacred – children are sacred. And I'm so blessed with a beautiful granddaughter and a grandson. So that's what gives me strength and hope.

HH: Thank you for sharing and talking about such a vulnerable and personal subject. Moving forward, where and how can people plug into this movement? What events or resources would you want to share in addition to what you have shared that can help people learn more or get more involved?

NW: Well you can just reach out to MMIPwindriver.org – email me any questions and I'll connect you if you want to be on the task force.

For personal reasons out of respect, you gotta accept where everybody's at with their case of their loved one at the time, right? You gotta wait when they're ready, when they're ready to send your picture or the story of their loved one – and for them to get stronger.

A lot of people come talk to me afterwards at many events, sharing their stories, and I'm like, ‘Look, you're doing it now.’ And they don't even realize that they're there being a loved one's voice and it counts and matters. And that's a step towards healing.

Hannah Habermann is the rural and tribal reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. She has a degree in Environmental Studies and Non-Fiction Writing from Middlebury College and was the co-creator of the podcast Yonder Lies: Unpacking the Myths of Jackson Hole. Hannah also received the Pattie Layser Greater Yellowstone Creative Writing & Journalism Fellowship from the Wyoming Arts Council in 2021 and has taught backpacking and climbing courses throughout the West.

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