Updated: Jun 12
“There is always light. If only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.” - Amanda Gorman.
Earlier this year, we met with a wonderful group of young Native women for our newly founded program, MIGIZI Speaks. MIGIZI Speaks is a WRITING CHANGE initiative from Estée Lauder Companies and National Youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman to support grassroots organizations dedicated to advancing literacy as a pathway to equality, access, and social change, through the power of young voices.
With the help of our Lead Media Instructor, Binesikwe Means, and singer/song writer, Jamela Pettiford, our youth have been working together to build a divine sisterhood while exploring the topic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives.
Across the country, Indigenous women, girls, and 2-spirit relatives are being taken and murdered at an unrelenting rate. The National Crime Information Center reports that, in 2016, there were 5,712 reports of missing American Indian and Alaskan Native women and girls, though the US Department of Justice’s federal missing person database, NamUs, only logged 116 cases.
Recognizing the gravity of this epidemic and the impact it has on our people, both young and old, we initiated this program to provide a safe space for our girls to unpack their experiences, share their stories, and honor our missing relatives through art, writing, and storytelling.
Exploring Themes and Creating Art
As part of our program, our youth participated in various writing prompts and creative activities. These exercises encouraged them to express their thoughts and emotions surrounding the crisis. Some of the prompts they explored included "Writing a Letter to Your Grandma," "The Power of My Bloodline," and "Miss Sneaky," which delves into their own potentially unsafe behaviors. Additionally, they composed a song dedicated to the memory of our missing sisters.
Studying MMIWR Cases
One of the exercises that captured the interest of our youth was studying several MMIWR cases and identifying patterns. In this exercise, interns read case notes aloud, while the other girls actively listened and documented key words. Disturbingly common themes emerged, including "no investigation," "unexplained bruising," and "ruled suicide." Recognizing the importance of personal safety, this exercise prompted our youth to establish a trusted friend with whom they would always share their location with.
Creating MMIW Profile Videos
After spending weeks studying the MMIWR cases, our students were deeply affected and saw themselves reflected in the stories of their community. As Native people, one way we know how to work through grief is by giving back to our community and creating art. So that's what our youth did. Determined to amplify the voices of our missing relatives, they channeled their creativity and created MMIW profile videos. These videos serve as a tribute, expressing our deep care and collective mourning for our relatives. Though their families may never find closure, we want them to be remembered, cherished, and forever honored as they've made their journeys to the spirit world.