UP indigenous tribes call for raised awareness of violence on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons awareness day

If you witness something suspicious or are experiencing violence yourself, you can contact the Upper Peninsula Human Trafficking Task Force.
Published: May. 5, 2023 at 7:36 PM EDT
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UPPER MICHIGAN (WLUC) - Tribes across the nation and the U.P. honored those who are missing while working to prevent others from becoming victims for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons (MMIP) awareness day on Friday.

“We have high rates of sexualization and domestic violence committed against indigenous people,” said Hali McKelvie. “Especially our indigenous women.”

McKelvie is a member of the Sault Ste. Marie tribe of Chippewa Indians. She works for the tribe’s advocacy resource center as its sexual violence grant coordination assistant manager.

She was also part of the tribe’s event for MMIP awareness day.

“We gathered at the Niigaanagiizhik, which is our tribe’s ceremonial building, for the whole community to come and pay respects and honor,” continued McKelvie. “We have survivors of MMIR crisis speaking and sharing their story.”

The date was officially recognized by a federal proclamation signed in 2021 and at the state level by Governor Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday.

It aims to raise awareness about the disproportionate number of indigenous people, especially women and girls, who go missing or become victims of violence.

McKelvie says there are a number of contributing factors.

“This is a myriad of jurisdictional issues, federal law, a lack of appropriate support, lack of appropriate research, and a lack of appropriate acknowledgment of these crimes happening,” added McKelvie.

According to the National Criminal Justice Training Center of Fox Valley Technical College in Wisconsin, four out of five indigenous women have experienced some form of violence and 40% of all sex trafficking victims are American indigenous or Alaskan native women.

The U.P. Human Trafficking Task Force’s Stephanie Graef says there are currently nine missing indigenous women in the state.

“These are nine aunties,” said Graef. “These are nine mothers. These are nine grandmothers, possibly. Each one of these people are so important and valuable and time worth giving to finding out how it is that they became missing and then murdered.”

That’s why U.P. tribes are working to raise awareness and support their survivors every day.

For example, the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community (KBIC) has a transitional home program that helps assist survivors of this violence.

They encourage others to become more aware of what is going on during MMIP in order to make a difference.

“People can change this trend and raise awareness by participating in these activities and becoming more aware of the resources available,” said KBIC Niimigimiwang Women’s Transition Home team lead Carol LaPointe.

McKelvie and LaPointe encourage people to wear red during MMIP awareness day as a sign of solidarity.

The task force and McKelvie also say if you see something, say something.

“If I stay silent to something, that makes me a part of the problem,” said McKelvie. “Even if I feel like I’m doing something good by staying out of it. Say something.”

If you witness something suspicious or are experiencing violence yourself, you can contact the Upper Peninsula Human Trafficking Task Force by calling or texting the 24-hour helpline at (906) 299-9243.