A National Day of Awareness: Recognition of the Crisis

May 5, 2019, Lame Deer, Montana—As in past years, the Northern Cheyenne Indian tribe held a justice walk and program calling for national recognition and increased response to the crisis of MMIW. Pictured from left to right Northern Cheyenne President Rynalea Whiteman Pena, mother of Hanna Harris Malinda Harris Limberhand, Montana House of Representative Rae Peppers, and Hanna’s sister Rose Harris. Representative Peppers (D-Lame Deer) was the primary sponsor of Montana Bill 21, Hanna’s Act. The Act provides for a new Montana state missing persons specialist to track cases. Native Americans make up 6.7 percent of the state’s population yet account for 26% of the missing persons reports. 23 of Montana’s 77 missing women, or 30 percent, are Native American. Lame Deer is where NIWRC’s main office is located and is home for many staff members.

This year S. Res. 144 designating May 5th as a National Day of Awareness was introduced by Senator Daines and joined by Senators Tester, Hoeven, Rounds, Warren, Gardner, Crapo, Lankford, and Murkowski. As in 2017 and 2018, the Senate resolution passed by unanimous consent. These National Day of Awareness resolutions acknowledge the wrong done to missing and murdered Native women and girls and honors their lives. The resolutions are the beginnings of change, the opening of national recognition of the wrongs committed against Native women. Public honoring’s are important, they offer a path for the healing of the families and communities from the trauma of the disappearance or murder of loved one. The National Day of Awareness is also a call for justice for the changes needed to prevent future abductions, to prevent future killings, and future murders. NIWRC is honored to share the full remarks of Malinda Limberhand, the mother of Hanna Harris, during a national webinar honoring missing and murdered Native women and girls.

I want to thank all of you for joining us today.

Each one of you by joining is taking action to say enough-is-enough. Together we are raising our voices calling for justice for our Native women and girls. We are saying to this state, country and the world that the lives of Native women and girls are important.

Hanna went missing on July 4, 2013. Like in so many cases of missing Native women the system was slow to respond. We as her family, friends, and community had to conduct the search for Hanna. And this is what happens across Indian tribes when a Native women or girl goes missing or disappears. This failed response is not acceptable and must change.

Today’s webinar and the other actions being held are so important to telling our story. We are telling the world Native women do matter. We are telling the world the disappearance of a Native woman or girl must be responded to and not ignored.

As a mother of a Native woman who became one of the “Missing and Murdered” I am committed to organizing to make these changes happen. I do this for my daughter and all our missing and murdered Native women.

This is not a new problem. It is an old problem. Traditionally Native women were respected. But today we face levels of violence greater than any other group of women. This violence touches every family. Every tribe has Native women and girls who are missing or have been murdered. Since Hanna went missing and was found murdered, I have become very aware of how large a problem we face as Native women and as tribes. The Department of Justice has found that in some tribal communities, American Indian women face murder rates that are more than 10 times the national average.

Hanna was just 21 years old when she went missing. Her future was stolen, and her beautiful son denied his mother. Like Hanna murdered Native women will not live to see their dreams come true. Their tribes will not see their talents and contributions.

As a mother, nothing will replace the loss of my daughter but by organizing. by working to support the National Day of Awareness, and creating the changes needed I know it will help others. And Hanna and so many others will not be forgotten.

To end this problem, we must understand it. Many Native women go missing or are murdered by a rapist, abuser, sex trafficker, or as in the movie “Wind River” oil rig workers. These men rape, abuse, beat, and murder Native women because we are seen as “unprotected.” They know nothing will be done.

Acceptance of violence against Indian women is not new. It goes back to the Indian wars and the boarding schools when violence was used by the government. It also goes back to an old standard of not doing anything when an Indian woman was raped, beaten or murdered. It is an old problem we continue to live with today.

Bad people commit these horrible crimes against Native women, but it is the system that allows it to happen generation after generation.

This needs to stop. The system must change. And that is why I am speaking today.

A National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls will help shed light on this horrible reality. I thank Senator Daines and Tester for leading the way for passage of the Senate resolution declaring May 5, 2019, Hanna’s birthday, as a National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls.

To all those supporting missing and murdered Native women across Indian tribes I say thank you! I ask you to wear red to honor our missing and murdered Native women and girls! Post your actions on social media! Tell the world of these crimes!

Together we must stand for justice and safety for our daughters, granddaughters, sisters, mothers, grandmothers! We must stand for all Native women and girls!

Néá’eše! Thank you!
Malinda Limberhand, Mother of Hanna Harris, Member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe

“When I reported my daughter missing, the chief of police told me, ‘She’s probably scared to come home.’ I was told I could search for Hanna myself. We did the search and found Hanna, but it was too late. Having a dedicated resource in the Department of Justice and a requirement that law enforcement takes a missing person report could have help my daughter.”
—Malinda Limberhand