PORT ANGELES — Missing and murdered Indigenous persons must not be forgotten, a group of speakers told a crowd of about 100 people who gathered Friday morning at The Gateway transit center to observe the national Missing or Murdered Indigenous Persons Awareness Day.
“Don’t be afraid to bring their names forward so they are remembered,” said Frances Charles, Lower Elwha Klallam chair, who was one of five speakers.
The event started with the group gathering at the Vern Burton Center to make signs. Some of the messages included “NO MORE,” “You are not forgotten,” “MMWI,” and names of missing or murdered Indigenous people.
Many in the crowd wore red MMIW (Missing or Murdered Indigenous Women) T-shirts. The red symbolized that the person is doing his or her part to guide lost souls back home and acknowledge the thousands of Indigenous young women and girls who go missing each year.
After the marchers arrived at the transit center at Front and Lincoln, marchers — many holding up their phone cameras — gathered in a semi-circle to hear five speakers: Lower Elwha Klallam Tribal Chairwoman Frances Charles, Lower Elwha Police Chief Sam White, and Port Angeles City Council members LaTrisha Suggs, Navarra Carr and Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin.
Nine chairs were lined up facing Front Street, each with a plastic-covered flier imprinted with the name, tribal affiliation and circumstances of the person’s death or disappearance, plus a red blanket that was presented as a gift to the family members.
The nine people represented consisted of six from the Makah Tribe, one from the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, one from the Lower Elwha Klallam and one from the Rosebud Sioux Tribe of South Dakota. All had local relatives.
A group of drummers and singers began the ceremony by performing three songs: “The Hope Song,” “Love Will Hold Our Families Together” and “The Love Song.”
“Missing and murdered indigenous is such a difficult subject,” Suggs said. ”We all pulled together so it is not a secret. Getting the word out is important. Don’t be afraid to speak up.”
Suggs, a member of the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe, was the first enrolled tribal member to sit on the Port Angeles City Council and also is a member of the governor’s task force.
She also told the crowd to step out of their comfort zone of the tribal community and into the larger community.
Carr said: “It’s sobering to be here. The loss of one person in our community is important. Marches such as these show people’s commitment.”
White said he is a member of the Washington State Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People Task Force.
They have developed a data collection team because there’s no accurate data on how many Indigenous people are murdered or go missing every year, he said.
“We know it’s higher but we don’t know by how much. People aren’t entered into police reports as being ‘Native.’ It was the families who voiced their concerns and made this happen,” White said.
Prior to a closing prayer, the relatives of the nine missing or murdered people each held up a placard, identified the person and told the circumstances surrounding their death or disappearance.
The North Olympic Peninsula is home to five federally-recognized tribes.
Reporter Brian Gawley can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at email@example.com.