Take Back the Night: MSUM marchers vow to focus attention on high ‘missing and murdered’ rate among indigenous women

By Zachary Viney

“Dragons unite! Take back the night!” students shouted as they marched Sept. 20 to raise awareness of violence toward women.

MSUM’s Women’s Center held its annual Take Back the Night event in remembrance of Savanna Greywind, who was murdered a year ago by a woman who cut Greywind’s baby from her womb. The theme this year was “Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.”

Greywind, a member of the Spirit Lake (ND) tribe, lived in Fargo and was eight months pregnant when she was reported missing on Aug. 19, 2017. Eight days later her body was found in the Red River.

Greywind’s grisly murder shocked Fargo-Moorhead area residents. Because of how strongly the community reacted to Greywind’s murder, the MSUM Women’s Center wanted to use Take Back the Night to raise awareness about the high disappearance and death rates among indigenous women.

Law enforcement statistics indicate that indigenous women are 10 times more likely to be murdered than other women.

It’s an incredibly personal topic for one the event’s coordinators, Araceli Spotted Thunder, a Moorhead State sophomore and the MSUM American Indian Student Association vice president.

“We are often seen as invisible,” says Spotted Thunder. “We matter just as much as anyone else.”

The event was held with hope that awareness of how often native women are killed or mysteriously “go missing” will inspire marchers and others to take action of their own.

“We need boots on the ground, out looking for some of these young girls,” said Nora Bartel, MSUM’s Campus Feminist Organization president and another coordinator of the event.

Originally, the event was to be held outdoors on the campus mall and conclude with a march to W.H. Davy Memorial Park in Moorhead. However, the rally had to be moved to Comstock Memorial Union because of rainy weather.

Protest signs and paper cut-outs of red dresses decorated the student union ballroom walls. Red dress cut-outs were a symbol for the event. Keynote speaker Lissa Yellowbird-Chase said the dresses represent sacredness and femininity because of the color red and shape of the dress.

The rally began with a dinner and social time for guests to visit with representatives from local crisis centers and homeless shelters. After a brief speech by MSUM President Anne Blackhurst and two other guest speakers, the keynote speaker Lissa Yellowbird-Chase took to the stage.

Yellowbird-Chase, 50, is the self-proclaimed “crazy ‘missing persons’ lady” and also the founder of the organization Sahnish Scouts of North Dakota. The group is dedicated to publicly talking about and actively searching for missing persons.

She said her goal for Take Back the Night was “to cause concern in those who feel insulated from the events going on in this world.”

For example, Yellowbird-Chase believes that the often-cited statistic that indigenous women are 10 times more likely to be murdered than other women is actually closer to 15-20 times more likely. Police procedural error, such as referring to a death as a suicide/accident or misidentifying the race of the victim, increases the statistic, she said.

Coincidentally, in the same week as Take Back the Night, Greywind’s second accused murderer, William Hoehn, went on trial for conspiracy to commit murder. As the trial continues, MSUM students and organizations plan to increase awareness and concern for the violence indigenous women face. Spotted Thunder said the goal can’t be accomplished by American Indian women alone.

“I don’t necessarily want to be a voice for other indigenous women, but I want to be one of the voices,” Spotted Thunder said.

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