In Nebraska, state leaders took steps last year to address the spate of missing and murdered indigenous women affecting their state and country. The state’s Legislature passed a bill that requires the Nebraska State Patrol to study ways to improve the gathering of data related to missing Native women in Nebraska and a legislative task force was established to ensure the bill is implemented properly. Rallies, conferences and new funding for domestic violence programs to tribes, including funds for the Ponca and Winnebago tribes, have also provided hope that meaningful steps are being taken to reduce the number of Native women who are murdered or disappear each year. At Saturday night’s vigil in Lincoln, nearly a dozen women and men shared stories of abuse and tears and expressed hope that steps might be taken to end the violence committed against Native women. Three red dresses hung above the circle of people, and seven red, wooden figures of women with feathers in their hair rested on a table nearby. A woman named Natalie shared her story of being sexually assaulted by someone she thought was a friend. She said people who are abused are often good at hiding their bruises and scars. “When they do turn for help, nobody believes them,” she said. Winnebago activist Michelle Free-LaMere said it is important to provide training to women. “We’re going to have to have those self-defense classes, those situational awareness classes,” she said. Colette Yellow Robe, chairwoman of the Native American Women’s Nebraska Task Force, said it also is important that Native people stop blaming victims of domestic violence, something she has already seen some people do to Ashlea Aldrich. “We can’t do that anymore,” Yellow Robe said. “Those days are done.” Elizabeth Weidner, missing and murdered indigenous women coordinator for the Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs, shared her own story of abuse. She said a former boyfriend once threatened to kill himself in front of her using her own gun. She got a protection order against him, which he violated, leading to his arrest and imprisonment. Weidner said she decided to leave and attend law school. She is now a second-year law student and is working to get policies in place to prevent the murder and abuse of Native women. She said she is currently trying to gather accurate data about how many Native women are missing in Nebraska. She asked those gathered at Saturday’s vigil to let her know if they knew of any missing women who haven’t been reported to the police. “If anyone knows someone who is missing and a report wasn’t filed or police didn’t care, let me know,” she said. “I want everyone to be accounted for.” Sans Souci said it’s important to understand that even when people seem respectable and kind, they still may be hiding a violent side. She said the night she fled her home that she shared with her brother and mother she had come home to find her two boys running from the house. Sans Souci went inside the house to find her brother, still fuming. “You have not taught them anything!” he yelled at her. “They don’t share.” He told her that her boys refused to share a toy with his own children. He attacked her spiritual beliefs, saying she was a hypocrite for not teaching her children to share. It wasn’t the first time her brother had lost his temper, but this time, he had gone too far, Sans Souci said. With her children crying, she decided she had to leave. She loaded up her children, and drove to Omaha. With very little money and no place else to go, Sans Souci prayed that night. And she began to despair. She asked her creator why no one wanted her or her children and began to question whether it might be better if they were all dead. Her 10-year-old daughter heard her praying and chastised her mother. “Mom, please don’t think that way,” she said. As dawn finally broke after that long night, Sans Souci began trying to think of where she and her children might go. She decided to take them to a sundance. She spent the next day preparing for the ceremony and the two days after that sundancing. “I prayed for my kids, and I prayed for a home,” she said. When she was finished, a niece who lived in Lincoln offered to let her and her kids stay with her for three weeks until they were able to get housing. She said she hasn’t spoken to her brother for a long time but has found peace now that she and her children have their own home and don’t have to fear angering him. “Now I can let it go,” she said. “Now my healing begins.”
Omaha Tribe and Ashlea AldrichIn addition to issuing statements about the death of Ashlea Aldrich, the Omaha Tribe offered counseling and participated in vigils over the last week.
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