LUNA hosts event to honor Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirit People

Red dresses are a symbol of MMIWG2S Day, celebrated on May 5. Photo by Alana Melvin.

Lawrence University Native Americans (LUNA) hosted an event on Main Hall Green to honor and mourn Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) on Wednesday, May 4. May 5 is the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirit people (MMIWG2S). 

The event was titled “Unmasking Ourselves: Who Are We?” and began with a land acknowledgement from senior Taneya Garcia, President of LUNA. Garcia then introduced Renee Gralewicz from the Waking Women’s Healing Institute, a support group for Native American victims of gendered violence. Gralewicz gave the main speech of the event.  

Gralewicz began her speech by talking about Hanna Harris, a Northern Cheyenne woman who was murdered in July 2013. May 5 is Harris’s birthday. She talked about the importance of the color red to the MMIWG2S, which she said represents danger as well as love.  

Gralewicz went on to talk about the title of the event, “Unmasking Ourselves,” and what it means to her. She talked about how a lot of our history remains masked. She made the connection between politicians passing laws banning discussions about U.S. history and the ways in which the stories we tell in our society mask crimes against indigenous people. She used the example of the Disney movie “Pocahontas”.  

Pictures from the exhibit displaying the Red Hand. Photo by Alana Melvin.

“While not all of Indigenous history is U.S. history, all of U.S. history is Indigenous history,” said Gralewicz. 

Gralewicz connected this to the fact that the vast majority of Indigenous women, girls and queer people have faced violence and that the third leading cause of death for Indigenous women is murder. She then talked about the generational trauma caused by violence.  

Gralewicz also talked about climate change, and how the violation of the Earth is tied to violence against people, citing the correlation between oil exploration on Native lands and the violence against Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people that follows those pipelines’ construction routes. She called out politicians in Minnesota and Wisconsin for allowing the Line 3 and Line 5 pipelines. 

Gralewicz’s speech was followed by a performance of the Jingle Dress Dance, in which Indigenous students from Lawrence as well as people of all ages who came from off campus to the event danced and played music in this healing ceremony that is important to the Ojibwe people.  

Deborah Martin, an Indigenous woman from off campus who attended the event, stated that she came to support all Indigenous people and bring awareness to Native American women and queer people who are targeted by violence.  

Red dresses are a symbol of MMIWG2S Day, celebrated on May 5. Photo by Alana Melvin.

First-year Cesar Donaire, who is a member of LUNA, was grateful to everyone who came to the event.  

“It was an incredibly meaningful event that we put effort and love into,” Donaire said.  

LUNA also put up exhibits in the Diversity & Intercultural Center (D&IC) and on the second floor of the Buchanan Kiewit Wellness Center. Both exhibits had information explaining things like the symbolic meaning of the red dress and the red hand and included a statistic that according to the National Crime Information Center  there are over 5,000 cases of MMIWG2S, and most are unsolved.  

The exhibit in the D&IC features several LUNA members posing underneath the Otāēciah statue with red hands painted on their faces, as well as several art posters created by Native American students from Appleton West and Appleton East High School, who also put up posters in the Wellness Center exhibit.