reneesanssouci
Renee Sans Souci speaks during a prayer vigil for missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people held in Lincoln, Nebraska, on Wednesday, May 5, 2021. Photo by Kevin Abourezk
Native community comes together to honor missing and murdered relatives
Thursday, May 6, 2021
Indianz.Com

LINCOLN, Nebraska – She last saw her uncle four days before his murder.

Joseph Solomon Jr. was eating at a soup kitchen in Lincoln, and Renee Sans Souci and her children met him there.

The 58-year-old man had stitches on his head following a random attack. Sans Souci told her uncle to be careful living on the streets. She and her children had recently moved back to Lincoln, and she told her uncle that she wanted her children to get to know him better.

Four days later, Solomon was stabbed to death in an apartment after trying to protect someone.

“I didn’t know that that was going to be the last time that I talked to him,” Sans Souci said. “It really broke my heart, literally.”

Six months later, Sans Souci ended up at a hospital, suffering from heart problems.

mmiwlincolnindiancenter
Renee Sans Souci prepares to say a prayer during a vigil for missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people held in Lincoln, Nebraska, on Wednesday, May 5, 2021. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

Because she had only recently moved to Lincoln and was homeless, she didn’t have access to her Omaha tribal ceremonies. So instead of praying and practicing the rituals that would have helped her address her grief at the loss of her uncle, she was forced to let that pain fester and cause her heart problems, Sans Souci said.

“Those experiences that we have with our loved ones, and when they’re hurt or killed that way, it does something to you, to your spirit, to your mind, to your body,” she said.

And Sans Souci has made it her mission to help address the spiritual needs of those who’ve lost loved ones to murder or other suspicious causes.

She shared her story Wednesday night at the Lincoln Indian Center before a dozen people as part of a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirit People prayer vigil. The event was held on the Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls National Day of Action.

In some tribal communities, American Indian women face murder rates more than 10 times the national average, according to a study released by the U.S. Department of Justice. Between 1979 and 1992, homicide was the third-leading cause for Native females ages 15 to 34, and 75 percent were killed by family members or acquaintances.

Last month, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland announced the formation of the Missing and Murdered Unit within the Bureau of Indian Affairs in order to facilitate interagency work involving missing and murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives.

“Far too often, murders and missing persons cases in Indian country go unsolved and unaddressed, leaving families and communities devastated,” Haaland said in April. “The new MMU unit will provide the resources and leadership to prioritize these cases and coordinate resources to hold people accountable, keep our communities safe, and provide closure for families.”

Wednesday night’s event in Lincoln was hosted by the Sacred Fire: Truth and Integrity Project, a community organizing circle sponsored by Stand In For Nebraska, a social justice nonprofit organization founded in 2019.

As part of the event, Sans Souci held a prayer ceremony, smudged attendees with burning sage, performed prayer songs and shared her medicine pipe with those gathered.

ribbonskirts
Women’s and girls’ skirts are seen here during a prayer vigil for missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people held in Lincoln, Nebraska, on Wednesday, May 5, 2021. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

She talked about the death of her niece Ashlea Aldrich, 19, last year on the Omaha Reservation. No one has ever been charged in her death, though her family has long believed someone she knew murdered her.

And Sans Souci talked about the death of Lenice Blackbird, who died last year after contracting COVID-19. Her family has blamed Omaha tribal officials for failing to check on the 25-year-old woman while she was sick and refusing to look for her when her family reported her missing from the cabin where she had been forced to quarantine.

Her family found her several days later a few hundred feet from the cabin, and her cause of death was later listed as undetermined.

On Tuesday, Blackbird’s family held a memorial walk on the Omaha Reservation to celebrate her birthday.

Sans Souci said it was difficult to learn from the woman’s family that tribal leaders had failed to pray with the family and address their spiritual needs following Blackbird’s death.

“It hurt because they should have been taking care of the spiritual part of helping this family but also taking care of the spirits of these women,” she said. “They have no answers. They have no peace.”

“That’s where we can help, help bring that peace.”

Those who attended Wednesday’s event also got to share their stories.

denamcintire
Dena McIntire-Lone Dog talks about the death of her son, Lance McIntire, at the hands of police in Omaha, Nebraska, in 2016. She shared her story during a prayer vigil for missing and murdered indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people held in Lincoln, Nebraska, on Wednesday, May 5, 2021. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

Dena McIntire-Lone Dog talked about the death of her son, Lance McIntire, at the hands of police in Omaha in 2016.

“We are all suffering from broken hearts with Sonny getting murdered and there’s no closure,” she said. “It’s hard. It is hard.”

Lance McIntire was killed after stopping at a pawn shop. Omaha police ruled his killing as justified.

On Sunday, his family held a memorial service for him that included a feast and giveaway.

McIntire-Lone Dog said she brought her daughters to the Lincoln Indian Center in order to show them that their lives matter.

“I want them all to be aware of this, what happens to them, and that they need to respected and honored, not trampled down and disappeared,” she said. “I want them all to know that they are of value. So I bring all my daughters with me tonight.”

lincolnindiancentermmiw
Alma Ramirez (center) holds her daughters’ hands during a prayer vigil for missing and murdered indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people held in Lincoln, Nebraska, on Wednesday, May 5, 2021. Photo by Kevin Abourezk