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Against the backdrop of fluttering red dresses and signs bearing moving messages, families and survivors gathered at the capitol in Madison, Wisc., on May 7 for the third annual Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) Day of Awareness.

The event — a collaborative effort involving the Waking Women Healing Institute, Gerald L. Ignace Indian Health Center, Wisconsin MMIW Task Force, Woodland Women, and Wisconsin Women’s Council — aimed to foster support and healing by raising awareness and sharing testimonies about the harsh realities faced by Indigenous people, particularly women and girls.

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Dawn Wilber (Menominee) was among several women who stepped up to the microphone on the Capitol steps, recounting personal experiences with the MMIP crisis.

“I lost my daughter, and she hasn't ever received any justice,” Wilber said. “To a mother, the hole will never ever be repaired. It doesn’t matter how old you are, always make sure someone knows where you are at, where you are supposed to be, and when you are going to get there.” 

As a group of young men drummed and sang, attendees formed a human chain, symbolically enveloping the capitol in red—a powerful visual representation of solidarity and remembrance. 

“It feels really good that we are all here today,” Rachel Fernandez of Maeqtekuahkihkiw Metaemohsak Inc., Woodland Women and a member of Wisconsin’s Women’s Council, said at the event. “Let's take a moment to reflect on the purpose that brings us together. We're here to shine a light on the issues, to demand accountability from systems that have failed us, to both call in and call out the lack of response. We seek healing and justice for our families, those who are grappling with the loss of missing and murdered loved ones. While our hearts may ache with sorrow and pain, let's also find joy in the strength and purpose of our efforts."

Violence against Native women and girls remains a pervasive issue in Wisconsin and the U.S. According to the CDC, homicide ranks as the third leading cause of death for Native American girls and teens nationwide, with Native women being over three times more likely to be murdered than their white counterparts.

In addressing the crowd, Justine Rufus, co-chair of the Wisconsin MMIW Task Force, emphasized the urgent need for action regarding efforts to raise awareness and advocate for legislative support on key issues surrounding the MMIP movement.

"I'm deeply committed to taking action," Rufus said. "We've discussed the importance of creating reports across states. Now, we're actively rallying for awareness, shaking trees to capture attention. But talk can only go so far. It's time for concrete legislation."

Rufus highlighted that despite Wisconsin Governor Tony Ever’s 2023 proposed budget aimed at addressing the ongoing MMIP crisis in Wisconsin, the budget failed to pass Wisconsin’s Joint Finance Committee.

"We have an abundance of resources within the state, more than enough to address this issue. All we're asking for is an office dedicated to investigating and continuing the crucial work of the Task Force. We will persist in demanding it,”  Rufus said.

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About The Author
Kaili Berg
Author: Kaili BergEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Staff Reporter
Kaili Berg (Aleut) is a member of the Alutiiq/Sugpiaq Nation, and a shareholder of Koniag, Inc. She is a staff reporter for Native News Online and Tribal Business News. Berg, who is based in Wisconsin, previously reported for the Ho-Chunk Nation newspaper, Hocak Worak. She went to school originally for nursing, but changed her major after finding her passion in communications at Western Technical College in Lacrosse, Wisconsin.