Catherine Edwards, co-chair of Tlingit and Haida’s Violence Against Women Task Force hugs Áakʼw Ḵwáan spokesperson Fran Houston at at the steps of the Alaska State Capitol Friday evening for a rally and march to recognize Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples Awareness Day held each year on May 5. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Catherine Edwards, co-chair of Tlingit and Haida’s Violence Against Women Task Force hugs Áakʼw Ḵwáan spokesperson Fran Houston at at the steps of the Alaska State Capitol Friday evening for a rally and march to recognize Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples Awareness Day held each year on May 5. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

‘This is now a plea’: Rally brings awareness to missing and murdered Indigenous people

“We want answers — our families deserve answers on what happened to our people.”

Red signs, shirts and painted hands were among the crowd of hundreds in Juneau who gathered at the steps of the Alaska State Capitol on Friday for a rally and march to recognize Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples Awareness Day held each year on May 5.

Red is worn as a symbol of the missing and murdered Indigenous person awareness movement and the Indigenous people who have been disproportionately victims of violence.

The day lands on May 5 each year, which is the birthday of Hanna Harris, a young Indigenous woman who was slain on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation in Montana. Her body was found close to a decade ago, but today, the issue of missing and murdered indigenous people persists.

The crowd on Friday stood quiet and solemn under a cloudy Juneau sky as local Alaska Native dignitaries, advocates and delegates spoke, many demanding justice and answers for the staggering number of Indigenous people and their families who have faced violence.

“We want answers — our families deserve answers on what happened to our people,” said Jeni Brown with the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska’s Violence Against Women Task Force. “We have teenagers, we have boys, we have girls, we have mothers, we have children and they go missing — we need answers.”

The state of Alaska ranks fourth in the nation for the highest number of missing and murdered Indigenous women cases, according to a 2020 study by the Urban Indian Health Institute.

Across the country, it’s estimated that approximately 4,200 missing and murdered Indigenous women cases have gone unsolved, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs.

More attention is being brought to the movement which advocates described as a silent crisis. In late April, delegates of the 88th annual Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska’s Tribal Assembly passed a resolution to commission a totem pole in Juneau that is dedicated to missing and murdered Indigenous women and people.

Leona Santiago, a Tlingit and Haida elder and survivor of violence, spoke to the crowd and called for community action to bring awareness to the issue that has grown to be detrimental to many across Alaska and the country.

“This is now a plea, a plea to each of you to help us,” she said. “We have experienced so many losses in this town, and I truly believe the families who have lost loved ones, and their friends will never end until they find that person.”

Speeches were also given by Juneau’s legislative delegation along with Rep. Maxine Dibert, a Fairbanks Democrat who is Alaska Native, who said she’s committed to “fight the crisis.” Others expressed their commitment to bringing the issue to light and working to stop it.

“They will get attention,” said Rep. Andi Story, a Juneau Democrat. “There will be no more silence for our brothers and sisters.”

• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at clarise.larson@juneauempire.com

See photos from the event below.

Hundred of people hold signs as they walk from the Alaska State Capitol Friday evening down Seward Street for a rally and march to recognize Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples Awareness Day held each year on May 5. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Hundred of people hold signs as they walk from the Alaska State Capitol Friday evening down Seward Street for a rally and march to recognize Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples Awareness Day held each year on May 5. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Christine Demmert and her young daughter, Elaine, stand next to their stroller that holds a sign as they listen to speakers at the Alaska State Capitol Friday evening for a rally and march to recognize Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples Awareness Day held each year on May 5. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Christine Demmert and her young daughter, Elaine, stand next to their stroller that holds a sign as they listen to speakers at the Alaska State Capitol Friday evening for a rally and march to recognize Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples Awareness Day held each year on May 5. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

City and Borough of Juneau Assembly Member Michelle Bonnet Hale speaks to the crowd of hundreds who gathered at the steps of the Alaska State Capitol Friday evening for a rally and march to recognize Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples Awareness Day held each year on May 5. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

City and Borough of Juneau Assembly Member Michelle Bonnet Hale speaks to the crowd of hundreds who gathered at the steps of the Alaska State Capitol Friday evening for a rally and march to recognize Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples Awareness Day held each year on May 5. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Eunice James holds a sign while listening to speakers at the Alaska State Capitol Friday evening for a rally and march to recognize Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples Awareness Day held each year on May 5. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Eunice James holds a sign while listening to speakers at the Alaska State Capitol Friday evening for a rally and march to recognize Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples Awareness Day held each year on May 5. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Bamby Kinville-James leads a song during the rally held at the steps of the Alaska State Capitol Friday evening to recognize Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples Awareness Day held each year on May 5. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Bamby Kinville-James leads a song during the rally held at the steps of the Alaska State Capitol Friday evening to recognize Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples Awareness Day held each year on May 5. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Bamby Kinville-James (left center) and Jeni Brown (right center) lead a song during the rally held at the steps of the Alaska State Capitol Friday evening to recognize Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples Awareness Day held each year on May 5. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Bamby Kinville-James (left center) and Jeni Brown (right center) lead a song during the rally held at the steps of the Alaska State Capitol Friday evening to recognize Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples Awareness Day held each year on May 5. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Rep. Andi Story, a Juneau Democrat, speaks to the crowd of hundreds who gathered at the steps of the Alaska State Capitol Friday evening for a rally and march to recognize Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples Awareness Day held each year on May 5. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Rep. Andi Story, a Juneau Democrat, speaks to the crowd of hundreds who gathered at the steps of the Alaska State Capitol Friday evening for a rally and march to recognize Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples Awareness Day held each year on May 5. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

A crowd gathers at the steps of the Alaska State Capitol Friday evening for a rally and march to recognize Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples Awareness Day held each year on May 5. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

A crowd gathers at the steps of the Alaska State Capitol Friday evening for a rally and march to recognize Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples Awareness Day held each year on May 5. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Rep. Maxine Dibert, a Fairbanks Democrat who is Alaska Native, speaks to the crowd of hundreds who gathered at the steps of the Alaska State Capitol Friday evening for a rally and march to recognize Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples Awareness Day held each year on May 5. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Rep. Maxine Dibert, a Fairbanks Democrat who is Alaska Native, speaks to the crowd of hundreds who gathered at the steps of the Alaska State Capitol Friday evening for a rally and march to recognize Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples Awareness Day held each year on May 5. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

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