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'Say Her Name' A Look at One Area of Many in the US with a High Count of MMIW

Updated: Mar 3, 2022

By Jessica Dropkin


The National Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) Day of Awareness is on May 5th. There are many NGOs, activists, and communities throughout the US and Canada that participate in this movement leading up to MMIW Day to promote awareness, as well as calls to action. 'Say Her Name', a documentary about MMIW, was released on the YouTube channel Somebody's Daughter on April 30th, 2021. There were quite a few documentaries released before May 5 to bring awareness and information to the general public about this epidemic, however, this was one out of many that were the most informative. Say Her Name was directed and written by an Indigenous woman named Rain. In this documentary, she highlights some of the girls that have gone missing in Big Horn County in Montana in the United States and interview the family members on their experiences with local law enforcement after their relative was reported missing. Billings, Montana is listed as #5 on the Top 10 Cities for MMIW and is where the Big Horn County Sheriff's Office (BHCSO) operates.

Kaysera Stops Pretty Places was one of many MMIW. She was a member of the Crow and Northern Cheyenne Tribe in Montana, both of which tribes have reservations in the southeast area of the state. She was last seen alive in Hardin, MT, a rural town not far from the Crow Reservation. When her family members on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation saw that she didn't return home on August 24th, 2019, and couldn't reach her on her phone, they contacted the BHCSO one day later to attempt to file a missing persons report. Kaysera was 18, and when her aunt tried to report her missing, the BHCSO told her that there was a mandatory waiting period before the report could be filed.


This information was false, misleading, irresponsible, and a hazard to human life. Anyone under 21 is considered a child in Montana and there is no waiting period to file a missing person report. On August 27th, 3 days after going missing, she was finally reported as missing to local authorities. There were little to no attempts from the BHCSO to locate her or notify local areas with missing person flyers. On August 29th a jogger found Kaysera's body in the backyard of a local resident while on their morning run. BHCSO implied that Kaysera's death was caused by drugs and alcohol, but the toxicology reports later proved that nothing illicit was in her system. The crime scene was not even sealed off during the investigation. On top of the unprofessionalism of BHCSO, Bullis Mortuary cremated Kaysera’s body against her family’s cultural beliefs and prevented a second autopsy from being performed. Kaysera’s family reported that law enforcement ignored tips from family and community members, refused to follow through with search warrants, and declined to interview crucial persons of interest in her case. The FBI refused to get involved because her body was found only .5 miles outside of Tribal lands. Days before her disappearance, Kaysera had filmed and shared a video on social media of police brutality involving her 15-year-old brother who was in a wheelchair. It's likely that this video she shared shortly before her death either contributed to her murder or prevented her case from being taken seriously by BHCSO. In fact, the first officer to respond to her body being found was one of the officers involved in her brother’s assault.


There are other cases of MMIW from the Northern Cheyenne Reservation that are similar to the handling of Kaysera's disappearance and the discovery of her body. In December 2018, Henny Scott, a 14-year-old girl, went missing on the Reservation. Henny’s mother called the BHCSO to report her missing and was told her daughter did not qualify for an AMBER alert. BHCSO authorities did not organize a search party even though this child was missing for days. They did not release a missing persons alert until 2 weeks later. After weeks had passed with little effort from local law enforcement, a community-led search party went out to find Henny. The community members found Henny’s body not far from a house where she was suspected to have been last. Authorities tried to imply alcohol led to her death, but she actually died of hypothermia. Henny’s family still has no closure for her death and they believe she was chased from that house. When her family identified her body, Henny had a broken nose and bruises.

Highway 16, 'Highway of Tears' in Canada
I-90 'Highway of Tears' in Montana in the US

Selena Not Afraid was a 16-year-old girl from the Crow and Nakota Nations. She was last seen with a group of friends that pulled their van over at a rest stop on I-90, which is now called the 2nd ‘Highway of Tears’ due to the large numbers of Indigenous women and girls that have been last seen there. The 1st ‘Highway of Tears’ is in Canada along Highway 16. These two highways are where the most MMIW has been found. Selena’s body was found near that rest stop where the van had stopped in a field. An autopsy claimed that she had died of hypothermia and there was no suspected foul play. However, she had been left at this rest stop by her friends along with another Indigenous girl who was found nearby with no recollection of what happened. She was found alive and barefoot with scratched legs hiding in a ditch. Selena’s sister, Tristen Gray, was also an MMIW. Selena’s brother Preston, 24 years old, was killed by police. Their family needs closure from these losses suffered and the local law enforcement, much like in Kaysera and Henny’s cases, have put little to no effort in bringing these families justice for their missing or murdered family members.


Christy Woodenthigh, a 33-year-old woman from the Northern Cheyenne Nation, was murdered by vehicular homicide. She suffered severe internal trauma due to being run over by a car. The man alleged to be responsible for her loss of life, who also happens to be the father of her 2 children, is currently awaiting trial for involuntary manslaughter, a crime to which he is not a stranger. In his past records, he had already been incarcerated for involuntary vehicular manslaughter. In Christy’s case, he is only looking at an 8-year jail sentence.


These women and girls aren’t dying from hypothermia, overdoses, and natural causes. They all have bruising or other signs that these are homicides. It is abhorrent that the people who are responsible for serving justice and upholding laws are being so negligent to these cases, and these families of MMIW. It is even more atrocious to barely try to find the murderer of a human being. No one should expect to be stolen one day just because they are an Indigenous woman or girl. We have to all say No More Stolen Sisters together in order to save these women and girls.


Many Tribal Nations in the US and Canada have formed their own MMIW task forces as well as communal security crews. These crews, fitted in similar gear and armed like local law enforcement, place themselves on watch at local gas stations, grocery stores, and more local establishments. These Tribal communities needed these groups to be established because of the lack of attention and resources from local, and state, law enforcement. Throughout history, Indigenous people have always had to fiercely protect the members of their Tribes and their warriors had to be diligently dedicated to the safety of their women and girls. It is unfortunate to see that this is still the case today in 2021, largely due to the MMIW epidemic. The sentencing and punishment length for rape and murder should be elongated. The US and Canadian Governments and their justice systems, especially the BHCSO in Montana, continue to upkeep barriers that are directly preventing closure for these MMIW, their families, and their loved ones. Hopefully, the recent implementation of the Missing and Murdered Unit in the Department of the Interior led by Deb Haaland, the 1st Indigenous woman to be in a presidential cabinet, will lead to answers, as well as closure, for so many of these victims' families.

Watch ‘Say Her Name’ by Somebody’s Daughter https://youtu.be/JfU825Oaw-k


Watch ‘Understanding How the Laws Encourage Violence’ by Nonviolence International New York https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1tyx1lFhVX0


Join our MMIW Campaign https://www.nonviolenceny.org/mmiw



Sources

The Disappearance and Unexplained Death of Henny Scott


Stolen Sisters Kaysera Stops Pretty Places


Selena Not Afraid: Body of Montana Teen Found


Saturday Marks 1 Year Anniversary of Lame Deer Woman’s Death, Accused Killer Awaits Trial


An Epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous People in Montana


Northern Cheyenne Tribal Members Policing Reservation


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