Take Back the Night: Raising awareness for indigenous women

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By Zach Viney, vineyza@mnstate.edu

Photos by Becca Renslow and Aridasee Tisland 

“Dragons unite! Take back the night!” students shouted as they marched to raise awareness of violence towards women.

On September 20, MSUM’s Women’s Center held its annual Take Back the Night event in remembrance of Savanna Greywind’s murder. The theme this year was: Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

Greywind, a member of the Spirit Lake tribe, lived in Fargo and was eight months pregnant when she was reported missing on August 19, 2017. Eight days later her body was found in the Red River.

Greywind’s grisly murder shocked residents of the Fargo-Moorhead area. Because of the strong impact on the community, the Women’s Center wanted to use Take Back the Night to raise awareness about the high disappearance and death rates among indigenous women.

It is an personal topic for one the event’s coordinators, Araceli Spotted Thunder, an MSUM sophomore and the American Indian Student Assoc. vice president.

“We are often seen as invisible,” says Spotted Thunder. “We matter just as much as anyone else.”

The event was held with hope that the awareness will inspire guests to take action of their own.

“We need boots on the ground, out looking for some of these young girls,” said Nora Bartel, Campus Feminist Organization president and another coordinator of the event.

Originally, the event was going to be held outside on the campus mall and conclude with a march to W.H. Davy Memorial Park. However, the rally had to be moved to the ballroom of the Comstock Memorial Union due to weather.

The walls of the ballroom were decorated with protest signs and paper cut-outs of red dresses, a symbol for the event. Keynote speaker Lissa Yellowbird-Chase said the dresses represent sacredness and femininity from the color red and the shape of the dress.

The rally began with a dinner and social time for guests to visit with representatives from local crisis centers and homeless shelters. After a quick speech from MSUM President Anne Blackhurst and two other guest speakers, the keynote speaker Lissa Yellowbird-Chase took to the stage.

Yellowbird-Chase, 50, is the self-proclaimed “crazy ‘missing persons’ lady” and also the founder of the organization Sahnish Scouts of North Dakota. The group is dedicated to publicly talking about and actively searching for missing persons.

She said her goal for the Take Back the Night event was “to cause concern in those who feel insulated from the events going on in this world.”

For example, she believes that the often-cited statistic that indigenous women are 10 times more likely to get murdered is actually closer to 15-20 times more likely. Police procedural error, like referring to the death as a suicide/accident or misidentifying the race of the victim, increases this statistic.

Coincidentally, in the same week of the Take Back the Night event, Greywind’s second accused murderer, William Hoehn, is on trial for conspiracy to commit murder. As the trial continues, MSUM students and organizations hope to increase awareness and concern for the violence indigenous women face. Spotted Thunder knows that this goal can’t be accomplished alone.

“I don’t necessarily want to be a voice for other indigenous women, but I want to be one of the voices,” she said.

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