Vigils, rallies mark day of awareness for Indigenous victims

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In this image provided by the Navajo Nation Office of the Speaker, family members and advocates participating in a candlelight vigil on the Navajo Nation, Wednesday, May 5, 2021, near Window Rock, Ariz., to commemorate a day of awareness for the crisis of violence against Indigenous women and children. (Byron C. Shorty, Navajo Nation Office of the Speaker via AP)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Some shared agonizing stories of frustration and loss. Others prayed and performed ceremonies. All called for action.

Across the U.S. on Wednesday, family members, advocates and government leaders commemorated a day of awareness for the crisis of violence against Indigenous women and children. They met at virtual events, vigils and rallies at state capitols, and raised their voices on social media.

In Washington, a gathering hosted by U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and other federal officials started with a prayer asking for guidance and grace for the Indigenous families who have lost relatives and those who have been victims of violence.

Before and after a moment of silence, officials from various agencies vowed to continue working with tribes to address the problem.

As part of the ceremony, a red memorial shawl with the names of missing and slain Indigenous women was draped across a long table to remember the lives behind what Haaland called alarming and unacceptable statistics. More names were added to the shawl Wednesday.

Haaland, the first Native American U.S. Cabinet secretary and a former Democratic U.S. representative from New Mexico, recalled hearing families testify about searching for loved ones on their own and bringing a red ribbon skirt to a congressional hearing that represented missing and slain Native Americans.

She believes the nation has reached an inflection point, and said it’s time to solve the crisis.

“Everyone deserves to feel safe in their communities, but the missing and murdered Indigenous peoples crisis is one that Native communities have faced since the dawn of colonization,” Haaland said as she joined the event virtually.