“I commit myself, as the director here, that this is the first march of many,” said Patina Park, executive director of the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center, to a crowd of about 100 Saturday morning who gathered at the Center for the first-ever Indigenous Women’s March.
Inspired in part by women’s contributions in helping people at the Franklin Hiawatha homeless encampment (dubbed “The Wall of Forgotten Natives”) the marchers’ mission was to highlight the epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women. Minnesota lawmakers are currently considering a bill to create a task force to explore the high rates of abduction and murder in the Native American community, and Saturday’s event was a way to shine a light on the urgency of the situation. MinnPost took in the march, in photos and interviews:
Marchers in the first-ever Indigenous Women’s March gathered at the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center in the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis Saturday morning.
Hoyt Orman and Asia Johnson. “We’re here in support of the native community and of our indigenous women, to show that we’re still here and that we matter,” said Johnson. “We feel we’re being made invisible and that what’s been happening for 500 years is still happening. Our erasure and our genocide is real, and it’s going on, and it needs to be a front-of-the-line issue and not swept under the rug anymore. The Twin Cities have a huge issue with human trafficking, and sex trafficking in particular, and native women and children are the number one target.”
Linda EagleSpeaker addressed the pre-march crowd gathered behind the offices of the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center.
“I’m the elder-in-residence for the Minnesota Indigenous Women’s Resource Center,” EagleSpeaker told MinnPost. “I’ve been here at the agency for about 15 years. Worked closely with all the women in our programs, and our treatment programs, and over the years I’d have to say that 2018 up until now has been the most violent for our women here in the Phillips community. We just rescued a woman that’s been disappeared two weeks ago; we searched for her and we found her. That’s what we do, we’re not just social workers. [The issue isn’t widely known about or made a high priority by the government] because we’re brown, we’re indigenous, and because we’re invisible to the outside population. We’ve always been invisible to the dominant population, since the 1400s.
“Today we’re going to march. There’s so much violence with the women in the community. Our women can’t even come down here today without being solicited. Our staff can’t even go outside to the backyard to have a cigarette without someone driving up and trying to buy them in broad daylight.”
“These marches are very important for awareness factors. There’s not just one or two of these predators. The travel in groups, they’re predatory, and they’re very open about it. The talk about [sex trafficking] in the open, they think they’re going to get away with it.
“They believe that you won’t say anything because of the fear, and there’s a lot of truth to that. Ladies have been captured, beaten, and tortured and they remarkably somehow get away and they don’t really have anyone to talk to because of the fear. One of the remarks I’ve heard is they regard us like cattle, or that they treat their pigs better. I’ve had experience in this, personally. I know how these people think. In a way, I’m a survivor.”
Monica Bunce and Justina Castro. “I’m here to represent for our women, the women who are missing and murdered and to also stand up for no more abuse and [let people know] we have a voice,” said Castro. “People should be concerned about us being murdered and going missing, because we’re one the highest rates of people going missing and murdered. That is why I’m marching,” said Bunce.
Venelli Felling: “Our group represents the indigenous people of Mexico, but we feel it’s really important to support all of our indigenous brothers and sisters all across the world. I’m considered the fire keeper-slash-energy worker, trying to keep the energy neutral. Burning this fire is just basically trying to be in touch with the universe, and just spread positivity and wash away any negativity that may be present here and make this whole march positive.”
Felling led dancers down Franklin Avenue at the first-ever Indigenous Women’s March.
Kirk Crowshoe: “As an Indian man, it’s imperative that I support women, and that women support us as men in our communities. We support one another, and we show it to each other in ways like this. We show up as men for this march. As men, whether you’re an Indian man, or a non-Indian man, we make tremendous mistakes. We have committed wrongs against women inadvertently, or knowingly.
“For me, as an Indian man, I have been far from perfect, and I have made mistakes that have hurt my fellow women, and sometimes being at gatherings like this helps remind me that I’m on a path of healing, and that my recovery is unfolding, and that I am making amends in ways that feel important, or feel like they make a difference.
Charlie Greenman and Bonnie Mulligan. “We’re both white, Caucasian. We have to identify and own our history that we’ve tried to destroy our indigenous people in this country, and if we don’t acknowledge that, we’re capable of doing that again,” said Greenman. “I don’t think it any longer makes sense to make the kinds of divisions we’ve made in our society,” said Mulligan. “Separating out a group usually means that one is superior to the other, and that is just a false construction, and so I believe that the sooner we can look at each other as equals, the better our world will be.”
Patina Park: “I commit myself, as the director here, that this is the first march of many, and as long as I’m in this building, we will be having this annually here, and hopefully it will grow and grow and instead of marching around murdered and missing indigenous women, we’ll be marching around who we are as beautiful and resilient women.”
Susana De Leon: “We as indigenous women have always been the recipients of extreme violence, and it’s not OK. It’s a terrible thing that has gone on for too long. We as women that come from other countries but are indigenous to this land want to create a sisterhood with the community here, because we live in these communities and we don’t want our children to face the same horrors and violence that we have faced. Each dance we do for each event has its special meaning, but we always dance for the creator. They are prayers going up to the creator, asking for what it is in our heart that we need. We dance with our spirit. It’s our body that carries us, but it’s our spirit that’s being elevated to the light of the creator.”
To the sound of drums and chants, marchers in the first-ever Indigenous Women’s March made their way down Franklin Avenue to the Little Earth of United Tribes housing complex and the community’s annual Mother’s Day Powwow.