May 5 is Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) Awareness Day. Racing Magpie, in downtown Rapid City, has space dedicated to MMIW. The room is a sad, powerful place. I was moved when visiting the room filled with Red Dresses to remember MMIW. I explained to my Takoja the lives of the women I knew and how they died.
Candace Rough Surface is one of the names written on a small piece of paper and pinned to a red dress in the room at Racing Magpie. She was raped and killed in 1980 by two wasicu teenagers. The shooter, Nicholas Scherr, was sentenced to 100 years in prison. He was granted parole and released from prison last summer. He reportedly lives in Sioux Falls.
The death of Jancita Eagle Deer in 1975 is another example of a Lakota woman who died under mysterious circumstances. She was hit by a car in Nebraska, 200 miles away from her home on the Rosebud Reservation. No one was ever arrested in connection with in her death.
Delphine Crow Dog is another Lakota woman who died mysteriously in 1972. Her body was found southwest of the St. Francis Community on the Rosebud Reservation. Again, no suspects were ever arrested in her death.
Mona Two Eagle is another Lakota woman whose body was found on the Rosebud. The feds claimed they didn’t have enough evidence to prosecute the man many of us suspect as her murderer. He still walks free.
Lakota – as well as other Indigenous women, men and children – have been murdered and gone missing for decades, if not centuries. For example, a 4-month-old Lakota baby girl, taken from the arms of her murdered mother at Wounded Knee in 1890, is today known by the world as Zintkala Nuni (Lost Bird). Despite being left on the killing fields at Wounded Knee for four days in freezing temperatures following the massacre; she was the miracle baby who made a full recovery under the care of her Lakota relatives.
As a child, Lost Bird was kidnapped by the wasicu General Leonard Colby. Zintkala Nuni was a missing Indigenous girl who was given the wasicu name Margaret Elizabeth Colby. The General was suspected of sexually abusing her when she was a teen and fathering her stillborn child.
She later participated in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show with other Lakota relatives. The life and death of Lost Bird is tragic. She died in 1920 on Valentine’s day. In 1991, Lost Bird’s remains were reinterred, near her mother buried in the Wounded Knee mass grave, during a ceremony led by Chief Arvol Looking Horse.
Unfortunately, we will see increased MMIW cases with the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. When construction begins, thousands of workers will flock to our area. Temporary camps will be established near the pipeline route and will pose a true threat with a high potential to devastate the lives of our people.
So, even though many people view MMIW as a contemporary issue, it’s really nothing new to us. We always remember our missing and/or murdered women, men, teenagers and children. Living in this colonized world as an Indigenous person is extremely dangerous; our people disappear without a trace more often than we want to admit.
On Pine Ridge, relatives are still looking for Larissa Lone Hill, a Lakota woman who disappeared in October 2016. Also missing is Alex Vasquez, who disappeared in October 2015.
Our prayers are with the Sicangu tribal citizen found in the St. Francis Community over the weekend. There is so much tragedy in our communities; our people have no protection. I urge you all to please be aware of your surroundings and stay safe.
Cante Hunkesni Win (Lakota) is an award-winning Journalist.