Participants of the 19th Annual Memorial March to Honor Our Lost Children walk down a busy street in Sioux City, Iowa, on November 24, 2021. Photo by Kevin Abourezk
‘We have a lot of work to do’: Native community continues annual walk for lost children
Friday, November 26, 2021
SIOUX CITY, Iowa — As he looked across a windswept hill overlooking the Missouri River, Manape LaMere imagined better days to come.
“I see gardens out here,” he said, motioning toward a park to the west. “I see an Indian center. I see beehives.”
“I want that for these young people here.”
LaMere spoke to more than 60 people on Wednesday morning gathered in Sioux City’s War Eagle Park for the 19th Annual Memorial March to Honor Our Lost Children.
Manape LaMere, a Winnebago organizer, speaks during the 19th Annual Memorial March to Honor Our Lost Children held in Sioux City, Iowa, on November 24, 2021. Photo by Kevin Abourezk
His father – the late Frank LaMere, a Winnebago activist who died in June 2019 – began the march to commemorate Native children lost to the child welfare system or murdered by foster parents and to convince state officials in Iowa and Nebraska to address the ever growing ranks of Native children taken from Native parents.
In Iowa, Native children continue to be overly represented in foster care. While Native people make up just 4 percent of the state’s population, Native children make up 21 percent of foster care cases, according to the Iowa Department of Human Services. More than 200 Native children are currently in foster care in Iowa.
Manape LaMere stressed the need for Native parents to care for their children.
“We can point at the cops,” he said. “We can point at CPS all we want, but we have to take responsibility for our own community.”
Terry Medina, left, a Winnebago Tribal Court probation officer, speaks during the 19th Annual Memorial March to Honor Our Lost Children held in Sioux City, Iowa, on November 24, 2021. Photo by Kevin Abourezk
Terry Medina, a Winnebago Tribal Court probation officer, urged those gathered to remember the children who never came home from foster homes, as well as their grieving families.
“I’m always trying to preach the word of forgiveness,” he said. “I couldn’t even imagine going through something like that.”
“Their heart is not just broken. It’s shattered to pieces.”
Participants of the 19th Annual Memorial March to Honor Our Lost Children leave War Eagle Park in Sioux City, Iowa, on November 24, 2021. Photo by Kevin Abourezk
Marchers walked from War Eagle Park down the hill to Rosecrance Jackson Centers, a treatment center, where they gathered for refreshments and words from local leaders.
Along the march, several men rode horses, following the procession.
Jimmy Hallum, a Santee Sioux elder who brought horses to Wednesday’s event, talked about the need for Native people to become foster parents. A foster parent himself, Hallum said he has taken care of several of his relatives’ children.
“If you can become a foster parent, I encourage you to do it because to me it’s our way of life,” he said. “We didn’t have any orphans at one time.”
Jimmy Hallum, a Santee Sioux man, speaks during the 19th Annual Memorial March to Honor Our Lost Children in Sioux City, Iowa, on November 24, 2021. Photo by Kevin Abourezk
For the first time in the history of the annual march, a Native high school sent a bus load of students to the event. The Omaha Nation sent nearly 30 students to the event.
Brent Wojcik, a social studies teacher at the Omaha Nation high school, said one of his students got the idea after listening to a lecture Wojcik gave about Frank LaMere’s achievements, including his pivotal role in shutting down four beer stores in Whiteclay, Nebraska.
That student, Jarius Harlan, said he felt it was important for students to get involved in the annual event.
“This is very important for us children and our people and younger generations ahead of us,” he said. “People need to come to the realization that Natives are here, and we’re going to stay for a very long time.”
Medina said when the march first began it required a security guard to ensure no one was hurt by angry drivers who would shout profanities at the marchers. On Wednesday, two police cruisers and an officer on a bicycle followed the procession, closing intersections to allow marchers to pass and ensuring traffic was kept at a distance.
“The hatred, the bitterness, the revenge has now turned into forgiveness, love, compassion for the relatives,” Medina said.
From Rosecrance Jackson Centers, marchers walked several miles to the Urban Native Center, where marchers gathered for speeches by local leaders.
John Bigeagle Jr. speaks during the 19th Annual Memorial March to Honor Our Lost Children Wednesday in Sioux City, Iowa, on November 24, 2021. Photo by Kevin Abourezk
John Bigeagle Jr. talked about the need for Native parents to take responsibility for themselves and their children.
“I’m not a saint. I’m a sinner,” he said. “My kids were part of the system, but I got them back. I had to sober up and quit drinking.”
“We have a lot of work to do.”