Launch of an Amerindian justice project in Ely


Keith vandervort

ELY – “Although Native American women and girls make up only one percent of the state’s population, from 2010 to 2018, eight percent of all murdered women and girls in Minnesota were Native American. Between 27 and 54 Native American women and girls in Minnesota were reported missing in any given month from 2012 to 2020. “
The statistics sparked gasps of disbelief and muffled murmurs from an overwhelmed crowd at Grand Ely Lodge here this week, as State Senator Mary Kunesh cited findings from the Indigenous Women’s Task Force report. missing and murdered in Minnesota which she helped develop recently.
A Native American justice project, “Awareness… Then Change” was launched this week in Ely. Kunesh, co-chair of the working group, was there to support the local effort.
Kunesh, the daughter and granddaughter of members of the Standing Rock Lakota Sioux tribe, is the first Native American woman elected to the Minnesota Senate. His presentation to the Tuesday Group, “Building Awareness for Historical Change: The MMIW Movement in Minnesota,” focused on issues identified by the task force and action plans to address the disproportionate incidence of violence against Native American.
Kunesh also presented the information to students at Vermilion Community College. Its presentation was preceded by an honor song and dance by members of the Bois Forte Band. An exhibition of red dresses (see box), in memory of missing Indigenous women, was also presented in the lobby near the VCC Fine Arts Theater.
The Local Justice Project is sponsored by the Ely branch of the American Association of University Women in collaboration with the Ely EMPOWER organization. The goals of the justice project are to increase understanding, honor the heritage of the region, and prepare the ground for supporting political and social action to reduce risk and support the resilience of Native American women and children. .
“As a committee, we realized we had issues of inequity in our own area of ​​northeastern Minnesota,” said Linda Sutton, member of the AAUW’s local public policy committee. “Our intention is to educate our community in Ely so that we can be better allies for our Native American neighbors.”
Kunesh highlighted several parts of his Minnesota Human Trafficking Legislative Task Force report released earlier this year.
“Duluth has been a huge hub for many years in the trafficking of native girls,” she said. “It was easy to seduce them with money, goods and promises of a good life, and get them on a boat. The ship leaves and the girls are never seen again. It was a direct pipeline to the global sex trafficking network. ”
Kunesh admitted that one of the biggest hurdles for the task force was collecting data. “What has happened over the years is that there has been no record or information kept on missing or murdered indigenous peoples, or it has been hit and miss,” she said. “No organization collected the same information in the same way and documented it in the same way, which made it very difficult. She noted that the problem exists across the country.
With 100 percent buy-in to the effort on both sides of the political aisle, the task force was able to begin collecting data.
“We found out that in 2017, state law enforcement recorded 173 incidents of sex trafficking. Twenty percent of these victims were Native Americans, ”she said. “It was an unfortunate confirmation. I would have loved if we started looking at the data and found out that wasn’t the case. But we knew anecdotally from the Indigenous community that this was happening.
Kunesh summarized some of the main findings of the report.
“When an Indigenous woman or girl is reported missing or dies in suspicious circumstances, the investigative, prosecution and sentencing processes that are supposed to serve justice often fail to provide equal and fair treatment to those people. indigenous victims, ”she said. “The system does not have culturally appropriate healing resources for victims / survivors, families and Indigenous communities. “
She implored the public to get involved. “What can you do?” she asked. “Find out what sex trafficking looks like. Be aware of your surroundings and offer to help if someone needs it. Keep track of AMBER Alerts and learn about missing Indigenous women, girls and Two-Spirit people in your community. Advocate locally to ensure that your county sheriff and municipal law enforcement, local school district and hospitals, etc., are aware of the injustice of MMIW and the role of systems in preventing it.
Kunesh continued, “Contact your representatives about relevant legislation including VAWA (Federal), Safe Harbor (State), ICWA (Federal and State), etc. Help a person or family involved in or trying to escape trafficking or domestic violence (donate to a shelter, be a foster care provider, etc.).
More Ely events
A community reading event for Linda LeGarde Grover’s “In the Night of Memory” book also began this week. Area residents are encouraged to read the book and then participate in one or more of the book-related scheduled discussion events.
“In the Night of Memory” is a moving story of loss and recovery in Native American communities.
A reading and book signing are scheduled for Sunday, November 21 from 1 to 3 p.m. at Piragis Northwoods Co. The author will also present her new essay book titled “Gichmigami Hearts” in which she interweaves family history. and Ojibwa with stories of Misaabekong (the place of the giants) on Lake Superior. Copies of the book are available at Piragis Northwoods Co. and the Ely Public Library.
A community writing workshop with Grover will take place on Monday, November 22 at Ely Folk School. The workshop will run from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. and will include a light meal. Registration for the event is done through the Ely Folk School website.
Grover will also be offering workshops sponsored by the Story Portage Foundation at several schools in the area.
The community reading will conclude with a reading and presentation to the Tuesday group on November 23. Additional local activities related to the justice project will be scheduled in 2022.
The Ely Justice Project features an illustration, “Survivor II” by Shaun Chosa, a local Native American artist. “Survivor II” illustrates the impact of generations of historical trauma on Native American friends and neighbors.
Story Portage and the Brunfelt-Sainio Fund partially funded the first two months of activities.
For more information on the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in Minnesota Task Force, contact Sen.Kunesh at [email protected]

Red dress public art campaign
ELY – Red dresses were on display outside the Vermilion Community College Fine Arts Theater here on Tuesday at a launch event for the Native American justice project, “Awareness… Then Change”
The exhibition aims to raise awareness of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people.
With public art displays in red dress, the advocates aim to educate about statistics from the US Department of Justice. Some of the blatant and most recent reports indicate that indigenous women face murder rates in some counties, including tribal lands, ten times higher than the national average.
Along with the Red Dress Campaign, a “Say Your Name” billboard campaign was launched in Minnesota and Wisconsin last month to raise awareness of missing persons cases in Indigenous communities. of the region.
Support groups include the Native Justice Coalition, the American Indian Community Housing Organization, and the Global Indigenous Council.

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