By Sarah Elmquist Squires, Managing Editor

Indigenous people in Wyoming are eight times more likely to be the victim of homicide than White people; Native people are more likely to go missing, be missing longer, and less likely to gain media attention than their White peers, according to a University of Wyoming study centered on Missing and Murdered Indigenous People. 

The study, along with a statewide task force and efforts from the hyper-local to the national, are the result of a rallying cry to address those disparities. Last Saturday, a march and program at Riverton City Park shined a spotlight on what advocates say is a fight for justice that must persevere. 

“They’re not numbers. They’re not statistics,” said local activist Nicole Wagon, whose eldest daughter, Jocelyn, was murdered in 2019, and daughter Jade was found dead after being reported missing. “It’s important to say their names.” 

She, along with other speakers during Saturday’s program, urged community members to speak about their losses as a way to bring healing, and to speak out to rally for justice. 

Wagon has shared her story on the state and national stage as a way to call attention to what she called an epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous people, both on the Wind River Indian Reservation and across the nation. “My life has changed, she said. “The day my first eldest daughter was murdered, and then a year later, to have my heart broken again. It’s an unbearable pain that I do not wish on anybody … I strongly believe my daughters’ journeys were not done here yet,” Wagon said. They live on, through their mother’s voice, and through the lives of her grandchildren, she added. 

Mary Headley led a prayer at the beginning of the program, and was later presented with a Star Quilt made by Betty Matthews. Headley said she sees the same cars trolling City Park, looking for vulnerable men and women to prey upon. “That line of thought is an abomination,” she said. “It has to stop … I see a lot of people looking for answers and trying to heal … We need justice.” 

Northern Arapaho Business Council member Singing Sage shared her story of loss: Her oldest sister, Sheila, was killed 30 years ago – a trauma that is still difficult to talk about, she said. “We need, no matter what, to turn back to our Arapaho ways,” she said. As a member of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous People Coalition, Sage said she would do all she can to fight for justice, and to stop the tragedy of so many Indigenous people suffering. “We view our women as sacred and holy,” she said, adding that people need to be re-educated so that all understand, “so that women will always be protected.” 

Kathleen SunRhodes shared her loss: her son, Ryan Monroe Sn. was murdered in June 2020 and his killer or killers have still not been brought to justice. She said the FBI has told her family there isn’t enough evidence, but that the people he was with when he died are the likely culprits. Monroe left behind six children. “There’s nothing that’s going to bring him back,” SunRhodes said, but that holding those responsible for his murder accountable was important. “I’m not going to give up,” she shared. 

Wagon said that grassroots efforts to end the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous people was gathering steam, and more and more people are rising up. “We’re doing this together,” she said.