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Riverton march aims to inspire action around high rates of violence against Indigenous people

A crowd of people wearing red shirts march down both lanes of a city street, carrying banners, flags and posters related to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons crisis.
MMIP Wind River
A crowd walks down Riverton's Main Street during an MMIP march in May 2023.

May 5 is the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous People (MMIP). This Sunday, there will be a march in Riverton to honor the day and promote action to address a crisis that’s close to home for many.

According to data from Wyoming’s MMIP task force, homicide rates for Native people are five times higher than they are for white people in the state. Law enforcement entered 176 cases of missing Indigenous peoples in Wyoming into the National Crime Information Center system last year, representing 110 individual people. Eleven of those cases remain unresolved.

May 5 is also known as Red Dress Day or Wear Red Day. This year’s theme for the march in Riverton is “We March for Them.” It’s hosted by local group MMIP Wind River.

Nicole Wagon is a Northern Arapaho MMIP advocate and helped organize the event, which started in 2019. She said it’s important for the whole community – Riverton, Lander and the Wind River Reservation – to come together around the cause.

“We have to embrace the fact that all homicides are not on the reservation only. When I state that whatever happens on the Wind River bleeds into the cities, it's true. Whatever happens in the cities does bleed into the Wind River,” she said.

Wagon said there’s been some progress on addressing the MMIP crisis, like the recent implementation of the Ashanti Alert system, which sends out notifications about abducted, kidnapped or compromised adults. But she added there’s more work to be done.

“[We’re] trying to get into the pro and preventative side, to stop the violence, stop the sex trafficking, stop the murders, stop where people feel helpless in the midst of ‘When do I file somebody missing?’” she said. “[We can] come together as a community to support one another and to address these issues of ‘How do we come together to make it safe again?’”

March-goers will gather at the FCSD #25 administration parking lot at 121 North 5th Street starting at 10:30 a.m., then walk down Main Street to City Park at 11 a.m.

Two-Spirit Indigenous activist Charlene Sleeper, who is Crow, Southern Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Chippewa Cree, will share about her experiences founding MMIP Billings, which offers consulting and resources for education on MMIP cases in Montana.

There will also be drummers, dancers, the Redrum Motorcyle Club, representatives from Medicine Wheel Ride and other guest speakers. Wagon said those affected by the crisis are invited to share their stories at an open mic, which she recognizes is no small feat.

“Share their voice, this is what it's about. It is really traumatizing, so I hope that people have empathy and respect. It is opening up the wounds, but help is there and you're not alone,” she said.

Stew, fry bread and berry gravy will be provided for all. Groups like the Doya Natsu Healing Center and the White Buffalo Recovery Center will have informational tables at the park. Everyone is welcome and participants are invited to wear red.

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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