Participants in the "Invisible No More March" for murdered and missing indigenous women walks across a downtown intersection in Omaha, Nebraska, on October 14, 2019. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

'We’re going to bring them home': Rally for the missing and the murdered

OMAHA, Nebraska – They brought signs that read “Violence is Not My Tradition” and “Indigenous Day, Not Columbus Day” to this city’s downtown on Monday.

They wore T-shirts adorned with red hands and the words “Hear our voices.”

They brought music, the pulsating rhythm of the Native drum and the high-pitched voices of Native singers.

And they brought words.

“Help us advocate for one another,” said Colette Yellow Robe, one of the organizers of Monday’s march to raise awareness of missing and murdered indigenous women. “Let’s end this barbaric cycle of invisibility and disposability.”

“Native American women and girls matter. We are strong.”

Colette Yellow Robe, Cheyenne, speaks at the "Invisible No More March" for murdered and missing indigenous women in Omaha, Nebraska, on October 14, 2019. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

It’s no coincidence that nearly 100 Native men, women and children and their supporters filled the downtown area of this city on Indigenous Peoples' Day. Omaha ranks among the top 10 cities in the country for the number of indigenous women who have disappeared here, and Nebraska ranks seventh among states.

In March, the Nebraska Legislature passed a bill, LB154, that directs the Nebraska State Patrol to work with tribal, state and federal law enforcement agencies to determine the scope of the problem, barriers to gathering data and ways to create partnerships to improve reporting and investigation of missing Native women.

The State Patrol must submit its study to the Legislature by June 1, 2020.

Tom Brewer, Oglala Lakota, speaks during the "Invisible No More March" for murdered and missing indigenous women in Omaha, Nebraska, on October 14, 2019. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Tom Brewer, a citizen of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, said Monday that law enforcement agencies often fail to communicate with each other regarding criminal investigations.

“We’re not really where we want to be but we’re making some progress,” he said.

He asked those gathered Monday to come to him, the first Native state senator in Nebraska, if they have policy changes they would like to see made in their state.

“Don’t hesitate to come and talk to me,” he said. “I’m your guy.”

After a brief gathering before a federal courthouse Monday and a prayer by a Lakota elder, marchers walked two blocks south to the Douglas County Courthouse, where they heard speeches and more music by the Flatwater drum group.

Two women held a banner for the Native American Women’s Nebraska Task Force.

Grace Johnson, Oglala Lakota, urged those gathered Monday to remember the powerful roles Native women once among their people.

She said most tribes were matrilineal and were run by Native women. And Native women have often been considered the bringers of spiritual wisdom, she said, citing the Lakota story of the White Buffalo Calf Woman and the Navajo’s Changing Woman.

Grace Johnson, Oglala Lakota, speaks during the "Invisible No More March" for murdered and missing indigenous women in Omaha, Nebraska, on October 14, 2019. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

“What many don’t know, especially non-Native peoples, is that before Europeans arrived traditional Native American women were respected and held a place of honor,” she said. “Women were seen as life-givers, the backbone of a nation, the heart of a home.”

For Native women ages 10 to 24, homicide is the third leading cause of the death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Rates of violence on reservations are up to 10 times higher than the national average, the CDC has stated.

A November 2018 report by the Urban Indian Health Institute found 506 unique cases of missing and murdered Native women and girls across 71 selected cities.

Yellow Robe said at least five Native people are currently missing in Nebraska.

“We’re going to bring them home,” she said.

#MMIW March in Omaha, Nebraska - Indigenous Peoples Day
A woman holds a sign during the "Invisible No More March" for murdered and missing indigenous women held in Omaha, Nebraska, on October 14, 2019. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

The Flatwater drum group performs during the "Invisible No More March" for murdered and missing indigenous women held in Omaha, Nebraska, on October 14, 2019. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

Colette Yellow Robe, Cheyenne, speaks at the "Invisible No More March" for murdered and missing indigenous women held in Omaha, Nebraska, on October 14, 2019. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

Phyllis Stone, Rosebud Lakota, speaks during the "Invisible No More March" for murdered and missing indigenous women held in Omaha, Nebraska, on October 14, 2019. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

Terry LaMere, Winnebago, listens to speeches during the "Invisible No More March" for murdered and missing indigenous women held in Omaha, Nebraska, on October 14, 2019. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

A woman listens to speeches during the "Invisible No More March" for murdered and missing indigenous women held in Omaha, Nebraska, on October 14, 2019. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

Native women wait for the start of the "Invisible No More March" for murdered and missing indigenous women held in Omaha, Nebraska, on October 14, 2019. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

Two people hold signs during the "Invisible No More March" for murdered and missing indigenous women held in Omaha, Nebraska, on October 14, 2019. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

Native and non-Native allies take part in the "Invisible No More March" for murdered and missing indigenous women held in Omaha, Nebraska, on October 14, 2019. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

Two people hold signs during the "Invisible No More March" for murdered and missing indigenous women held in Omaha, Nebraska, on October 14, 2019. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

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