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March honors Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples Day

Melorie Begay

Hundreds of people marched through downtown Grand Rapids Friday for the 2nd annual march for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples.

Among the crowd of marchers was KT Mandoka, her wife and their 5-year-old daughter.

While Mandoka's family marched along with the crowd, her daughter, who is 5-years-old, yelled along with with other who chanted "no more stolen people."

Mandoka said her daughter is Hispanic and Mi'kmaq and her wife is a member of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe. She said as a mother of an Indigenous child it was important for her to bring her daughter.

“She needs to protect herself and she is a woman of color and the chance that she might go missing someday is pretty high, so I need her to know and we march for people that are still missing and we march for the people that were murdered, Indigenous people are not invisible,” she said.

Mandoka said she hopes more people recognize MMIP and that the government will help fund resources for Indigenous communities.

In recognition of American Indian and Alaska Native victims, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer proclaimed May 5 as Missing and Murdered Indigenous People’s Awareness Day.

Whitmer also pledged to commit to working closely with tribal governments to address historic traumas and develop policies to reduce, investigate, and resolve all incidents of violence against American Indian and Alaska Natives.

Virigina Sprague-Vanderband is a member and Tribal Chairperson for the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi. She also serves on a task force for the MMIP march. She said she was thrilled to see Whitmer make the proclamation.

“That shows you the progress that has been made here in the state of Michigan,” Sprague-Vanderband said. ”[Whitmer] is validating the things she has talked about with us as Indigenous people.”

Sprague-Vanderband said the event, that started at Ah-Nab-Awen Park, was held not only to raise awareness about MMIP but to also highlight available resources for Indigenous communities.

“[So] that all of these resources can be looped in together to maximize how we can connect them, so we can find these missing people and that we can lay souls to rest for those that may have been murdered,” She said. Sprague-Vanderband adds a lot of cases have had little attention and are often underreported.

Jodie Palmer, the Vice Chair of the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi, echoed the need to raise awareness.

"For so long we have not been in the news, and there's been so much destruction to our communities, and hurt and anguish for generations of people that have been taken by from our communities, murdered, killed, raped...not just women also men," she said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, homicide was the third-leading cause of death among American Indian and Alaska Native males between the ages of 1 and 44. For women, homicide was the sixth-leading cause of death among American Indian and Alaska Native females between the ages of 1 and 44.

With Gov. Whitmer's proclamation and turnout for the event, Palmer said she's hopeful more support will be provided for Indigenous communities.

"We're very fortunate we have a governor and legislative body that right now is recognizing that we have sovereign status, and it's a really hard concept for most people to understand that we have the right to govern ourselves and do what's right for our people," she said.

Palmer said the march was a collaboration between three Potawatomi tribes in Western Michigan including the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi, Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Potawatomi and the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi.