On Wednesday, May 5th, Missoula's Project Beacon teamed up with the YWCA, All Nations Health Center, and about half a dozen other amazing local advocacy groups to recognize National Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls Awareness Day in Missoula. The day has been declared nationally, with a proclamation issued and signed locally by Mayor Engen.

Throughout the day, community members showed their support for the MMIW movement by getting red handprint tattoos at Altered Skin, a free gesture of solidarity provided by Tveraa Photography and with artists Phil, Alyssa, and Dustin donating their time for the special day. Then at 7 p.m., supporters and families affected directly by the MMIW crisis gathered at the U of M Payne Family Native American Center and Oval to hear family members speak about their missing and murdered loved ones. We were treated to a musical performance by Indigenous singers Shawn White Grass and Brittney Hunter, who sang two very meaningful songs, and CSKT Elder Myrna Dumontier opened the event with a blessing and words about how the crisis has affected her, and our tribal communities. CSKT leadership offered an update on their new Community Response Plan and protocol, and local organizations were on hand to offer support and share an incredible number of resources for Montana families.

There were quite a few children in attendance, aging from babies to young adults, and I personally felt so grateful that they could witness and learn that domestic abuse, family violence, trafficking, and murder are not acceptable for our Indigenous people, and that none of it should be considered a way of life for tribal members, or any human beings. I feel like the kids were really listening, and taking it all in, which is so encouraging.

The aunt of Kaysera Stops Pretty Places shared her story and pain with us, and offered the very powerful statement that her family should not have to prove that Kaysera's life mattered in order to obtain justice for their murdered family member. Dr. Annie Belcourt (Otter Woman) spoke of how her family has been affected by the MMIW crisis, she's also an incredible writer, you can find more from her here. The speaker from Partnership Health Center spoke about what we can do as a community to stop our daughters, mothers, sisters, aunties, and cousins from dying from preventable causes of death. Indigenous female leaders took the stage to share the tragic statistics of Native women and girls who become victims in Montana. Red ribbon shirts and lone, red silhouettes representing women lost to violence surrounded the crowd.

We ended the evening by smudging and lighting candles to honor Montana's missing and murdered, with red lights shining upon the "M" and Main Hall to recognize this very important day of solidarity. Thank you to every one of you in attendance, and to all of the selfless advocate groups who made this day of awareness happen. Extra hugs and a shout out to Souta at Indigenous Vision who hiked the "M" in a ribbon skirt and moccasins to turn on the red lights!

THANK YOU: Project Beacon, Missoula YWCA, Student Advocate Resource Center at the U of M, CSKT, Payne Family Native American Center,  American Indian Student Services, Montana ACLU, Crime Victim Advocates, Partnership Health Center, Poverello, ZACC, and Indigenous Vision.

Photos & Proclamation of MMIW Awareness Day in Missoula