FARGO — The march for missing and murdered Indigenous people on Friday, May 7, was quiet, with demonstrators keeping to sidewalks and obeying traffic signals, but the event was made powerful by the tragic stories survivors of violence shared with the nearly 100 people who attended.
Before speeches began in Fargo's Island Park, Christy Goulet, a Native American woman from Dilworth, Minn., moved a bucket of fragrant burning sage through the crowd, smudging people for cleansing.
Brandi King, from the Nakota nation, stood up to speak about her brother, Myron Knight, who was beaten and decapitated in Billings, Montana.
Knight was King’s biggest supporter, and her “go-to for PTSD” she suffered from after being an Army combat medic in Iraq, King said.
“It’s 2021, four years later and we have still not closed this chapter,” King said. “The journey in this realm is very hard to describe.”
Although her brother’s killers were caught, she still cannot find justice.
“That type of justice, you would think it would hopefully close a chapter, but for me there is never going to be a sentence long enough,” King said.
Ernest “Joey” Oppegaard-Peltier, born in Grafton, N.D., is running for Minnesota Congressional District 7, which covers most of the western portion of the state. He said he is a survivor, and also a two-spirit person, a term accepted by some Indigenous tribes to describe belonging to a third gender-social role in their community.
“This plague that affects women also affects two-spirited men like myself,” Oppegaard-Peltier said. “And yes, we got Savanna’s Act passed last year, but that isn’t enough.
“There are monsters in our community and we allow it to fester,” Oppegaard-Peltier said.
Since the grisly murder of Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, a member of the Spirt Lake Tribe, whose baby was cut from her womb in Fargo in August 2017, the issue of violence against Indigenous women and men has been especially poignant, sparking rallies and marches in downtown every spring.
LaFontaine-Greywind's murder also prompted former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., to introduce Savanna's Act to reform law enforcement protocols related to missing and murdered Indigenous people. Former President Donald Trump signed the act into law in October.
To bring awareness to the issue in North Dakota, Gov. Doug Burgum signed a declaration announcing that May 5, 2021, is Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Awareness Day in the state. About 39,000 Native Americans live in North Dakota, and the missing and murdered Indigenous peoples movement is gaining traction among Natives and non-Natives.
At Friday's event, Shannon Kamal, from the Spirit Lake Reservation, stood up to speak about 5-year-old Raven Thompson, found dead in the basement of her foster parents’ Tokio, N.D., home on May 6, 2020. In that case, Erich Longie Jr., 43, pleaded guilty to first-degree felony murder, three counts of child abuse and one count of child neglect.
Rep. Ruth Buffalo, D-Fargo, attended the event, and spoke about how Indigenous women have targets on their backs. In many Indigenous communities, women go missing and are murdered at 10 times the national rate, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
“We need to amplify the voices of victims’ families,” Buffalo said. “We come together in times of tragedy and must come together to prevent further tragedies."