Tribal authorities have arrested a man in connection with the May 16 death of a 22-year-old woman from the Ho-Chunk Nation whose body was found near a river on the Winnebago Reservation in northeast Nebraska.
Jason Lawrence, Chief of Police for the
Winnebago Tribe, said the suspect will be taken into federal custody soon. He referred further questions to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which has authority to prosecute violent crimes in Indian Country.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Nebraska could not be reached for comment, and an FBI spokeswoman in Nebraska did not respond to a request for comment.
On Saturday evening, nearly 70 people gathered at a candlelight vigil near the place on the reservation where Kozee Decorah’s body was found.
One man who spoke said Decorah was involved in traditional ceremonies, like the sweat lodge, and the Native American Church. He said she enjoyed being teased.
“I would always be doing something or saying something crazy to her,” he said. “She used to always laugh all the time. She was real easy to make laugh.”
Michelle Free-LaMere, a Winnebago activist in the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women movement, said she offered figures that showed staggering disparities between crimes committed against Caucasian women versus Native women.
“I said if the numbers were reversed, the laws would already be changed,” she told Indianz.Com after the candlelight vigil. “The domestic violence laws would be stronger.”
Decorah’s aunt, Reva DeCora, said her niece was a “good girl” and had celebrated three months of sobriety the day before she was killed. She said the man who was taken into custody was the father of Decorah’s three children.
“She was taking the Red Road of her life for three months on the day that she died,” DeCora said. “She’s got three children, and now they have neither mother or father.”
Members of the Winnebago Tribe, Tribal Council, Winnebago Domestic Violence Program, and Family & Friends of Kozee...
DeCora said her grandson recently heard a women crying outside his window, and DeCora said she worries her niece is struggling to find her way into the spirit world. That was one of the reasons her family and friends decided to host the candlelight vigil on Saturday.
“I feel that her soul is lost,” she said. “So we’re going to go down and try to help her be on her journey.”
According to a GoFundMe page setup to raise money to return Decorah to her family in Wisconsin, she had been planning to move home within a few months.
“She was a kind-hearted soul with a contagious laugh,” wrote Stacey Schinko, who created the GoFundMe page, which had raised over $5,600 as of Monday night. “She was only 22 years old, and a mother to three precious children who in her own words saved her life. Mila, Kyson and Tydus will know that no matter what, their mother wanted them to know they were wished for, longed for, prayed for, and that they are forever loved.”
Schinko said Decorah’s family is still waiting for the FBI to officially identify her body, which was apparently found disfigured and difficult to identify.
“Family will not leave Nebraska until they can bring Kozee home,” Schinko said. “Her faith in God was strong, and she recently acknowledged it was time to let God run her life. The only sense we can make of this is God had a higher purpose for Kozee. Her death will save others. The family will fight for justice and bring awareness to Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW).”
John Snowball, wildlife and parks director for the Winnebago Tribe and vice-chairman of the Winnebago Tribal Council, said he arrived at the site where Decorah’s body was found not long after she was found.
“I said prayers on her behalf, on behalf of her children and what happened and the area,” he said during a tribal livestream last week. “That was the first thing I wanted to do when I arrived.”
“There’s a lot of people affected by this.”
My heart breaks for her children, her family, and the Ho-Chunk Nation for the loss of this young woman. If you are able to contribute a few dollars to help bring her body home to Wisconsin, please do. #MMIWhttps://t.co/jU46fJBaGl