SRPMIC Commemorates Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples Day 2024

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On May 3, SRPMIC Jr. Miss Salt River Jizelle Juan led the first annual "Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples Walk" at the Accelerated Learning Academy on the campus' outside track.

On March 7, 2023, the state of Arizona, under the direction of Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs, established the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples Task Force to collect data, review policies and make recommended changes to address the ongoing crisis of missing and murdered people (MMIP) in Indian Country.

The task force comprises 15 distinguished tribal leaders from throughout Arizona, including current Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Council members Wi-Bwa Grey and Mikah Carlos.

In recognition of their oath to raise awareness to bring an end to MMIP one day, on May 3 at the Accelerated Learning Academy football field, the SRPMIC held its inaugural MMIP Walk to honor lost loved ones. The walk was a collaboration of the SRPMIC Tribal Council, the Accelerated Learning Academy, the Community Relations Department, Salt River Materials Group, the Young River People’s Council and SRPMIC Royalty.

“Thank you for coming out to the very first ever SRPMIC MMIP Walk,” said Council member Grey during her welcome and introductions. During her speech, Grey stated that on March 3 of this year, the SRPMIC Council released a proclamation stating that the entire month of May will now and forever be Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples Awareness Month.

“We do have loved ones in the Community who are actually missing,” said Grey. “Whatever effort we can make to help find your loved ones or solve cases, that’s what we’re here for,” she said.

SRPMIC Council member Cheryl Doka spoke a few words at the podium and expressed her appreciation to Tony and Anthony “Thosh” Collins for singing a traditional song prior to the walk.

Before the performance, Thosh Collins visited the podium and shared part of his soul with the attendees. Speaking in a mixture of English and O’odham, Collins thanked the SRPMIC Tribal Council for spotlighting the ongoing tragedy of MMIP.

“In 2006, our sister went missing. When my father realized she was missing, they put the missing persons alert out. It turned out that she was missing and murdered in South Phoenix in 2006,” said Collins.

“We need to do this at a grassroots level and we need to continue to have policy and federal law to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else. As O’odham and Piipaash, we are still suffering from the effects of colonization,” he added.

Before the walk began, Council member Grey returned to the podium to further express her appreciation to those in attendance and to share the current status of MMIP awareness in the Community. “When we brought over the Super Bowl, we brought their security team and asked them, ‘What are you going to be doing about sex trafficking in our casino?’”

She revealed that Casino Arizona is the first casino ever to receive certification from the state of Arizona that its staff members are trained on how to identify sex trafficking. “Every single employee, from the back-of-the-house staff to the front-office staff, all the way up, every single person is trained,” she said.

Since completing their comprehensive training, Casino Arizona staff were recently able to rescue a victim of sex trafficking inside the casino’s walls. “We were able to save and reunite her with her family with the help of the Salt River Police,” said Grey.

The SRPMIC MMIP walk then officially began, with Jr. Miss Salt River Jizelle Juan leading the massive crowd. “It makes my heart feel good to see each and every one of you here because we need to raise awareness. [MMIP] should be recognized. It feels good to see you all so we can heal as a community,” she said prior to the walk.

The healing spread into the weekend, when SRPMIC membership and staff from the River People Health Center attended the MMIP Awareness Day event on Saturday, May 4, at the Arizona Capitol.

Hosted by Honwungsi Consulting Services, a Phoenix organization that provides help to Native families with missing or murdered loved ones, the gathering began with Jason Chavez, director of tribal affairs for the office of Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs. A member of the Tohono O’odham Nation, Chavez presented the proclamation for MMIP Day on behalf of Governor Hobbs.

“Whereas May 5th, 2024, has been designated as a National Day of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in Arizona …,” said Chavez as he read a prepared statement of the proclamation. Afterward, Chavez continued to detail how the governor’s office has been working diligently with tribal communities in Indian Country and stated that the Arizona MMIP Task Force recently submitted its annual report of their research and investigations to Governor Hobbs.

“We also honor the courageous advocates who raise awareness to protect our loved ones,” he finished. The May 5th MMIP Day proclamation was authorized and signed by Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs and Arizona Secretary of State Adrian Fontes.

Following Chavez’s remarks, Honwungsi Consulting invited Jr. Miss White Mountain Apache Rihanna Carroll to perform a dance she created herself in honor of MMIP. Wearing her traditional crown and dress and a shirt that read, “Not Your Disney Princess,” Carroll ceremoniously covered her hand in red paint, placed it over her face and danced on the Capitol lawn. Later she joined the other members of tribal royalty in attendance when the Cha’Bẽ’Tų Apache Crown Dance Group invited everyone to join in their ceremonial performance.

The ongoing tragedy of missing and murdered Indigenous people is a direct result of colonization that continues to leave a lasting negative impact on Indigenous people and their families. Thankfully, the state of Arizona and the SRPMIC continue to be at the forefront on this issue, raising awareness and implementing appropriate resources to rescue and reunite loved ones with their families in Indian Country.

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