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Samish hosts vigil in honor of missing and murdered indigenous women

August 23, 2018
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Angela Jefferson, a Samish Indian Nation social services specialist (left) acknowledges Tuesday the presence of Samish Nation elder Rosie Cayou-James (center) at the opening of a vigil in honor of missing and murdered indigenous women at Seafarers’ Memorial Park in Anacortes.

ANACORTES — Beneath an orange sun cloaked in smoke, voices of the Samish Indian Nation came together Tuesday to sing a mournful song in remembrance of the thousands of missing and murdered indigenous women throughout the United States and Canada.

The song, sung by women for women, was part of a vigil led by the Samish Indian Nation’s Chelángen and Social Services departments at Seafarers’ Memorial Park.

About 20 people took part in the event, many wearing bright red T-shirts that read, “No more stolen sisters.”

Two years ago, a call went out to raise awareness about the large number of native women who go missing or are murdered each year. On April 25, the U.S. Senate designated May 5 the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls.

Red was chosen as the color to unite the tribes, said Angela Jefferson, a Samish Indian Nation social services specialist.

“We’re enduring the same pain, experiencing the same grief,” she said.

The vigil gave those in attendance the chance to speak aloud the names of loved ones lost.

When Jefferson spoke, she remembered her aunt, a woman murdered in Bellingham 28 years ago. The crime remains unsolved.

“Nancy R. Cooke. That’s the name I have to say tonight,” Jefferson said. “My work won’t be done until people know this isn’t an isolated incident.”

The Anacortes vigil was held on the first day of the 13th annual Violence Against Women Tribal Consultation in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, a two-day meeting between the U.S. Attorney General and tribal leaders to address the violence experienced by Native American and Alaska Native women in tribal communities.

A 2017 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found Native American and Alaska Native women experienced some of the highest rates of homicide of all races studied.

Leslie Eastwood, the Samish Indian Nation’s administration and human resources general manager, closed her eyes before she spoke.

“There are tender emotions around this,” Eastwood said. “I have an ancestor who lost her life in Anacortes.”

As the sun began to set, tribal members rolled out a banner to be carried around the park. “Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women” was written in large, bold letters.

At times a soft song could be heard coming from their lips as they weaved through the streets. At other points, the singing stopped as members observed the signs pinned to trees along the way, each one telling a fact or story of native women who have suffered.

One sign read: “Isabell Burney, age 17 went missing 8/5/18 in Lacey, WA. She is still missing.”

Another read: “Deandreia Harrison went missing on 5/27/18 in Albequerque, NM. She is 17 years old.”

Standing before tribal members and guests, Jefferson told the crowd to listen closely, for those who have left this Earth might still be heard.

“To our sisters, please know we will never forget you,” Jefferson said. “We will honor you until our last breath.”

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