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Gathering raises awareness for missing and murdered Indigenous relatives

On May 5, over 150 members of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, family and friends gathered together at the Health and Human Services Building in Onamia to remember those lost.

Red dresses are displayed on a fence
Empty red dresses lined the fence off Highway 169 Thursday, May 5, 2022, as a reminder of all the missing women and Indigenous relatives who should be wearing them.
Tim Speier / Brainerd Dispatch
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ONAMIA — Fluttering effortlessly in the wind blowing in off Mille Lacs Lake, 27 empty red dresses lined the fence off Highway 169 as a reminder of all the missing women and Indigenous relatives who should be wearing them.

On May 5, over 150 members of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, family and friends gathered at the Health and Human Services Building in Onamia to hear Brenda Moose deliver the invocation on the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives.

During her invocation, Moose started bleeding from the nose as she formed a manidoo , an Ojibwe term for a “deep spiritual connection.”

“It’s how we know she’s the right person for the invocation,” said a spokesperson for the band.

The dresses hung along the highway are a part of the REDress Project , which started in Canada in 2010 as a way to highlight the epidemic of violence against Indigenous women.

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After the invocation, Dan Wind played a hand drum followed by a women’s healing circle jingle dress dance.

The jingle dress dance gets its name from the rows of metal cones attached to the dresses. The National Congress of American Indians notes the dresses are also known as prayer dresses and “the cones create another melody as the dancers move, mimicking the sound of falling rain and bringing a sense of peace to the whole endeavor.”

When the women’s healing circle dance concluded, a small portion of cake was handed out to be eaten with care in remembrance of lost relatives.

Jingle dress dancers
A women’s healing circle performs a jingle dress dance Thursday, May 5, 2022, at the Health and Human Services Building in Onamia.<br/>
Tim Speier / Brainerd Dispatch

Juliet Rudie, newly appointed director of Minnesota’s Office of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives, spoke to the crowd about her plans for the newly created position.

“The mission of this office is to seek justice for the victims and their families,” Rudie said. “I will promote the empowerment of Native American women and pursue safeguards for Native American women, relatives and children. The programs and services will foster safety, equity, healing, civil and human rights of Indigenous peoples and communities in Minnesota.”

A tribal member of the Lower Sioux Indian community and former chief deputy for the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office, Rudie spent 28 years in public safety before taking the position of director of Minnesota’s Office of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives Feb. 28.

Red dresses on a fence
Empty red dresses lined the fence off Highway 169 Thursday, May 5, 2022, as a reminder of all the missing women and Indigenous relatives who should be wearing them.
Tim Speier / Brainerd Dispatch

“It’s very personal to me,” Rudie said. “I have a cousin that’s been missing since 2017. I have a cousin that was murdered with no justice. I have a friend whose daughter was killed by gun violence.”

With multiple family members missing or murdered, Rudie said she is committed to doing more when she says her office aims to help develop and implement future legislation and policies. She said she will be hiring additional staff to begin establishing an advisory council to work on developing prevention reporting and response protocol.

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A 2020 report from the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s Task Force to the Minnesota State Legislature led to the creation of the state’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives Office, the first of its kind in the nation.

Making sure those lost are never forgotten, members of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe shared personal testimonies of missing and murdered loved ones, an issue that has persisted for decades, according to state reports.

One of those who spoke about his loss was Monte Fronk, who told his personal story about his daughter Nada’s murder in 2021.

“In my darkest times, all the advocates for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, who were there for me when the call came in, who were there for her wake and her funeral, they all came to me and said, ‘Monty, when you are ready, you need to tell your daughter's story,’” Fonk said. “‘Don't let Nada's murder be a statistic, or a check in a box.’”

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TIM SPEIER, staff writer, can be reached on Twitter @timmy2thyme , call 218-855-5859 or email tim.speier@brainerddispatch.com .

Tim Speier joined the Brainerd Dispatch in October 2021, covering Public Safety.
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