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From Heartbreak to Hope: Village of Solomon Mobilizes Against Indigenous Injustice

A march was held in downtown Nome on May 5 to mark the remembrance of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls.
Community members march through Nome at 2023's MMIWG event. Greg Knight photo.

May 3, 2024

Ben Townsend, News Director

Red sweaters bearing the words “STAND FOR MMIWG” will flood the streets of Nome Sunday, May 5. The public demonstration hopes to bring awareness to the annual Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) Day. The event, hosted by the Village of Solomon, will begin at noon at the Nome Recreation Center where participants will have the opportunity to make signs and receive the symbolic red sweaters. The program will continue with a walk through Nome, an act of solidarity and remembrance for indigenous victims and their families.

After attending her first MMIWG walk in Portland, Oregon, event organizer Deilah Johnson wanted to bring the advocacy event to Nome. After consulting with Village of Solomon President Kirsten Timbers, the village’s Tribal Council gave Johnson their full support to put on the first event. With a small contingent in tow, Johnson led the group through Nome.

“I was so nervous because I really wanted people to understand what the advocacy was,” Johnson said. After leading the chant, “We don’t want any more stolen sisters,” Johnson’s nerves eased. “I just got instantly hyped up and all that energy into I think that advocacy and feeling supported by people being there.”

It’s estimated that 4 out of 5 Native women experience some form of violence in their lifetime. Moreover, Native women face murder rates more than 10 times the national average. In 2021 the State of Alaska reported 229 cases of missing and murdered indigenous persons, with 149 missing and 80 murdered. The statistics strike a somber tone, but Johnson tries to channel that discontent into change.

“I’m Native, my family, all my family is native. So that really ties in. It has been a tough space when you are in this type of work. And I think that I’m able to channel some of that frustration and heartbreak into action,” Johnson said.

Johnson invited local, state, and national representatives to help bring awareness to the event. After growing frustrated from a lack of response, Johnson felt inspired to start what would become the script for the short film “One of Our Own”.

The poster for Deilah Johnson’s short film, “One of Our Own”.

“Continuously receiving ‘sorry, I can’t make it’ emails. I was really upset. So I couldn’t sleep. And I started taking notes on my phone writing a script,” Johnson said.

Johnson cites the still-open case of Florence Okpealuk as another inspiration for the film premiering at the event on Sunday. The fictional film featuring local actors hopes to show what it’s like for a family to endure the heartbreak of missing a family member. Johnson hopes that by incorporating local people and perspectives the film will foster a sense of pride within the community for being part of telling such a sensitive and important story.

Okpealuk’s disappearance in August of 2020 is also the subject of season four of the “Up and Vanished” podcast. The creator of the series, Payne Lindsey, will speak at the event. Lindsey released the first episode of the series in February and has an additional eight episodes coming out in June.

“He does such a deep dive into his investigative journalism. He’s able to really tell the story from all sides so that his intent is to help anyone who’s interested in the case to understand who all the characters are, how this had occurred and wanting to help the family solve the case,” Johnson said.

One of Johnson’s goals for the event is to build collaboration between organizations involved in delivering justice for missing or murdered indigenous women. In small villages, this may just be the local police department and tribe. In larger communities like Nome getting the four tribes, Alaska State Troopers, City Council, Public Safety Committee, and Nome Police Department all on the same page is a much taller task. Johnson looks forward to welcoming the State of Alaska’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Coordinator to help facilitate a conversation on improving collaboration.

“What we need are commitments and responsibilities. Who’s going to do that and kind of task a list of activities that are within the first 24 hours,” Johnson said. “I think that there has been a lot of conflict between several organizations in town, which we don’t want. What we want is to rebuild those relationships so that we can communicate transparently, with the intent of taking care of our communities.”

The walk is scheduled to begin at Nome City Hall at 1 p.m. and will conclude at the Nome Recreation Center, with a stop in between at the Nome Police Department. The approximately 1.5 mile route is expected to take about one hour. Refreshments and a potluck will await participants back at the Recreation Center, followed by presentations from guest speakers and the debut of Johnson’s film, “One of Our Own”.

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