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'I didn't know': Fargo event raises awareness of murdered, missing indigenous women

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Jingle Dress dancers Pearl Walker-Swaney dances during the “Remember the Hearts of Our Women” event Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018, on US Bank Plaza, Fargo, in recognition of Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women Awareness Day. The day was designated to be Feb. 14 by a 2015 proclamation by the cities of Fargo, Moorhead, West Fargo and Dilworth. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor3 / 4
Pearl Walker-Swaney, from left, Brande Redroad and Delores Gabbard help lead a march on Broadway during the “Remember the Hearts of Our Women” event Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018, Fargo in recognition of Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women Awareness Day. The day was designated to be Feb. 14 by a 2015 proclamation by the cities of Fargo, Moorhead, West Fargo and Dilworth. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor4 / 4

FARGO — About 100 people marched down Broadway and gathered downtown Wednesday, Feb. 14, for a local event in recognition of Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women Awareness Day.

The Fargo Native American Commission hosted "Remember the Hearts of Our Women," which started and ended at the City Commission Chambers. The event, a local version of a nationwide memorial, brought together family members of recent victims of murder, sexual violence and human trafficking.

The program included a panel of speakers, a reading from a child whose mother was murdered and performances by Jingle Dress dancers before attendees marched through downtown Fargo. Once they returned, a meal including fry bread tacos was provided.

The first Women's Memorial March was held in 1991 in Vancouver, Canada, where indigenous women have been disproportionately affected by kidnapping and violence. Now, communities across North America march annually on Valentine's Day for the cause.

Native American Commissioner Ruth Buffalo, City Commissioner John Strand, Mayor Tim Mahoney, and Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Chairman Dave Flute were among the many people who spoke at the event.

"We need to see action that is more swift than it has been," Flute said. "When people reach out to law enforcement, we need law enforcement to believe them."

Flute also referenced a recent high-profile case in Fargo, the 2017 murder of the pregnant 22-year-old Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, and said the Greywind family felt that "law enforcement needed to be more respectful in how they treated them."

Strand gave the welcome address for Tuesday's event, and the City Commissioner mentioned the lack of data available about violence toward indigenous women.

"I couldn't tell you how many are missing and murdered in North Dakota, or the United States," he said. "We can't help what we don't know, but we can step up today and learn more."

In 2015, the mayors of Fargo, Moorhead, Dilworth and West Fargo officially proclaimed February 14th to be Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women Awareness Day.

Carol Whiteman marched at Tuesday's event, saying she was just waking up to the cause.

"I didn't know that there were so many native women being kidnapped or killed," she said. "No one talks about it."

According to the National Congress of American Indians, American Indians are 2.5 times more likely to experience violent crimes compared to all other races, and cases of missing and murdered indigenous women often go unsolved.

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