Rally held to raise awareness, seek justice for missing and murdered Indigenous women
The search for missing and murdered Indigenous women hits especially close to home in Bemidji this year.
BEMIDJI — The search for missing and murdered Indigenous women hits especially close to home in Bemidji this year.
As part of MMIW 218’s annual rally held Monday, a search for missing teenager Nevaeh Kingbird provided about 100 community members a chance at helping to bring her back home.
Donning posters with her photo, several members of Nevaeh’s family along with community members spoke urgently for her return in hopes she would hear.
“We just want to find her,” Nevaeh’s uncle, Daniel Wind, said while holding back tears. “My heart hurts every day. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about my niece.”
One way Nevaeh’s cousin Mark Kingbird has been able to honor her and other missing Indigenous people was by writing a healing song that has been sung in opening at each MMIW rally since the song’s creation four years ago.
Mark also referred to it as an anthem of sorts for MMIW in the area.
“The words talk about everyone who needs to come together and never forget the women,” Mark said. “The song asks everyone to come dance and we can still dance together and remember them.”
Nevaeh was reported as missing to the Bemidji Police Department in the early morning hours of Oct. 22, 2021, after she was last seen leaving a home in Southview Terrace Park.
Being missing for nearly four months, adding a search party to the rally’s sixth year of running seemed the right thing to do.
“This was our first year incorporating a search with our annual rally due to the closeness of Kingbird going missing and the proximity of our group,” MMIW 218 organizer Audrianna Goodwin said. “We’re wanting to do more and show the community that we want and need more meaningful action from our local elected officials and systems.”
The search took place within the Nymore area for attendees ages 16 and older while another group distributed flyers downtown with hopes that the public won’t forget about these disappearances.
Jeremy Jourdain , who was last seen at a Nymore area apartment on Oct. 31, 2016, was also remembered.
“With Kingbird and Jourdain still missing, and families not having the answers really speaks to resources not being allocated in the right way,” Goodwin said. “The more we’re talking about, elevating the issue, gathering together and more pressure we can put on it, will help with some of that change.”
Seeking support from law enforcement and non-Indigenous people is just one way MMIW 218 is effecting change.
“We need our community to help us,” organizer Natasha Kingbird said. “It’s not just an issue among Native Americans. We need support from non-Indigenous people in our community.”
Organizer Simone Senogles echoed Kingbird’s sentiments saying, “Everybody in Bemidji should be here (at the rally). It’s important to all of us and our neighbors to keep us safe when walking down the road, walking into shops, on the streets. We want to know that people care about us.”
Citing a statistic that one in two Native American women will experience some type of violence in their lifetime, Goodwin pointed to the significant underreporting that prevents some people from grasping the full totality of the issue.
“It’s an issue that needs attention, especially in Beltrami County,” Goodwin said. “An MMIW report to the (Minnesota) Legislature showed women experiencing higher rates of murder here than anywhere else in the state. Something sinister is happening here.”
In combating these stats, MMIW 218 has hopes to create a MMIW task force with the Bemidji Police Department to provide more localized support that may not come from Minnesota state’s MMIW task force .
They also implore private property owners to monitor their properties being that searches can not be conducted on private property and encourage the city to implement more extensive surveillance in public places.
In supporting families who have missing loved ones, MMIW 218 seeks to provide more resources including monetary gifts, legal advice and liaisons.
Having held an additional May rally for the first time last year as part of the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls, the group looks ahead to their May 5 event and does not limit their searches to observed holidays.
“We’re starting to get that visibility,” Goodwin said. “I’m so grateful that we’ve found a space that we matter, that Nevaeh matters, that Jeremy Jourdain matters. It’s not if we go missing, but when. We deserve a stronger response.”
More details and updates can be found on the MMIW 218 Facebook page .