The idea for an awareness walk to remember Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) was sparked during a class discussion late last year at the Salt River Schools’ GED Building in the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.
Student Sophia Villalpando brought up the idea and then made the grassroots initiative a reality. Villalpando put her contact information out to the public, applied for the proper permits and promoted the walk, known as the Red Dress Walk. Now, those outside the classroom have noticed.
The walk is “a monthly walk for the awareness and remembrances of the MMIW,” said Villalpando. On the first Wednesday of each month, Villalpando and other supporters meet at the Community Building and walk to the Two Waters Complex’s Friendship Park and back. The group walks on Longmore Road with assistance of a Salt River Police Department escort, which is part of the permit. Villalpando picked that specific route because she walked it hundreds of times while she was growing up in the area.
On January 8, the third walk of the series, about 30 people of all ages showed up in support. Some wore red, the signature color of the MMIW movement, and some painted a hand over their mouth, another MMIW signature.
“Every walk we did, we get different people that I don’t even know,” Villalpando said. “That’s fine; the more people, the better.” She has been promoting the walk on social media and putting up flyers hoping to get more people out to generate awareness about the MMIW crisis. The tribal government’s Facebook page and O’odham Action News also have promoted the Red Dress Walk.
The movement has finally started to wake up some lawmakers:
• In November, President Donald Trump signed an executive order creating a White House task force charged with developing a strategy to address the crisis. The task force is titled “Operation Lady Justice” and includes multiple federal departments.
• Last year, Arizona created a task force to investigate and gather data about MMIW. Other states including Minnesota have created similar task forces.
• The 1,200-page report from a national inquiry in Canada was released in late spring of 2019, calling the crisis a “genocide.”
Villalpando said two of her cousins went missing and were killed, and that’s how she connected with the importance of the MMIW movement across and beyond Indian Country. She hopes the walk also can bring closure to participants who are walking to remember loved ones.
“We want to make sure that the [missing and murdered] are still remembered, that we don’t forget them,” Villalpando said.
The walk will be held through May and potentially beyond. The initial permit extends through May and Villalpando plans to renew the permit so the monthly walks may continue.
For more information, call (480) 465-9546.