Update: The kickoff event from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, April 30 moved inside Billy Mills Middle School because of the weather.
Lawrence’s Indigenous Community Center (ICC) has established a new chapter of the MMIWG2ST movement.
This international grassroots campaign calls attention to the epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, 2Spirit and Trans people. This is one of the most pressing issues facing the Native American population, with the U.S. Department of Justice reporting that Native women are murdered at a rate 10 times higher than the national average.
To raise awareness of this issue, the new Lawrence MMIW chapter is presenting a “Week of Actions for Justice” from Saturday, April 30 through Thursday, May 5, which is National MMIW Awareness Day.
The chapter is partnering with several local organizations to host a free self-defense class, community walk, various ceremonies, social media campaigns, and other events throughout the week.
The kickoff event, to be held from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday at Broken Arrow Park, will feature various speakers, raffles, food vendors and artists.
“We want anybody and everybody to come out, show support, and become an ally,” says Moniqué Mercurio, an ICC vice chair and committee head, and descendent of the Navajo and Esselen nations.
Operating alongside the Indigenous Community Center
Though the Lawrence MMIWG2ST chapter will be funded and supported by the ICC, it will be an entirely different branch of the organization, and part of a coalition that spans Oklahoma and Texas. Robert Hicks, the lead ICC chair and a member of Nevada’s Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, is looking forward to doing more than just spreading awareness about this issue.
By heading Lawrence MMIWG2ST, Hicks will commit to handling active cases, building a data hub, advocating for families, and building relationships with law enforcement agencies. To help streamline the process, he’s looking into getting his private investigator license in Kansas.
“When you hold that PI title, agencies are more willing to work with you. This license will allow me to make more connections and close more cases,” Hicks says.
Hicks is passionate about his mission to bring more stolen sisters home. Finding people that have slipped through the system is something that runs in his blood — his great-grandfather was known for tracking prisoners through the Nevada desert for days at a time, and bringing them home to justice. For Hicks, having a PI license would get him closer to making this dream a reality. The only problem? It can be costly.
The ICC is actively looking for local volunteers and donations to support their work, especially as they launch this new initiative. This will build on a foundation of already robust support that they’ve received from the community.
Backing from community partners
Laurie Ramirez and Melissa Holder, of the Ojibwe people and Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, respectively, are professors in the KU School of Social Welfare. They felt it was important to bring awareness and education of this movement to the KU campus. Ramirez and Holder coordinated a planning committee to make sure this week of events reaches as many people as possible.
“As Indigenous faculty of color at a predominantly white institution, we see that students, faculty and staff may not have the knowledge of the movement that has had its roots and most visibility in Indian Country. Attending these events will be a great way for the community to show their support,” Ramirez says.
The planning committee has exploded with support, and now has representation from the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health, several KU and Haskell departments, KU student organizations including First Nations Student Association and Student Senate, and B.L.A.C.K. Lawrence.
Another critical partner in Mercurio and Hicks’ work is the Wichita MMIWG2ST chapter. One of its leaders, Victoria Suazo, has seen powerful levels of community interest in this work.
“Our organization came together in October 2021 at the Trail of Tears Memorial Walk in Wichita. We agreed to sit at the table for MMIW, knowing there wasn’t a Kansas chapter. But as we sat there, so many people approached us to shake our hands, thank us, and ask when our next event was. We decided that day to step up and be that voice for our state,” Suazo says.
Suazo has been especially grateful for the support of Kansas’ Indigenous representatives, Ponka-We Victors-Cozad and Christina Haswood, as they facilitated the formation of the sister Lawrence chapter.
“This is a very hard topic to talk about, but there’s a lot of healing and awareness that we’re trying to bring into our spaces,” Mercurio says. “And the fact that all these different organizations are finding ways to support us speaks volumes about our community as a whole.”
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Jordan Winter (she/her), a contributor to The Lawrence Times, is a 2019 KU grad with degrees in journalism and political science.