UNCP students, faculty and staff, Pembroke community members and Native Americans participated in an awareness program and candle light walk to honor the Indigenous women who are still missing, those who were murdered and those who have been abused.
The event was hosted by the Native American Student Organization (NASO) in collaboration with Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Alpha Pi Omega, Phi Sigma Nu, Student Government Association, the American Association of University Women, Rise Together, Campus Engagement and Leadership, the Office for Diversity and Inclusion and Southeast American Indian Studies.
“We feel, that quite often, indigenous women, indigenous people, are left out of the conversation, we’re tired of always feeling invisible but not anymore,” Vice President of NASO Taylor Strickland said. “Right now, we’re here to raise awareness about violence against indigenous women and remember those that we lost and have been affected by this epidemic.”
Layla Locklear played a song on the hand drum in honor of the women called “Wah Jhi Le Jhim” or the “Hand Drum Song.” A music video was also shown of Canadian music artist Classified’s song called “Powerless.” The video was inspired to bring awareness to the violence against indigenous women.
Guest speakers from different tribes and places shared their stories about surviving against violence.
Academic Adviser for the Center for Student Success LeAnn Strickland Melvin tells her story through poetry to discuss her trials of being an indigenous woman and the violence she encountered through her life. She describes everyone as the “result of a lot of stories” and she is “the result of the love of thousands of women who fought to keep families together and mouths fed, the story of invincible women who fought against violent men to protect their women.”
“We tell these stories to heal, we tell these stories so that are daughters, granddaughters, nieces and cousins will learn to be proud to be who they are,” she said.
Megan Strickland, OVW Grant project coordinator for Title IX, and Cheryl Harris of Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) announced that the university received a $550,000 grant to minimize sexual violence on campus. The grant focuses on Native Americans.
“Here on campus we have an issue with Native American students not coming for assistance so we see all types of races in the Title IX office but so far since 2014, since Ronette switched over to Title IX, she’s only seen five Native Americans come to her for help,” Strickland said.
Strickland and Harris wish to see more Native American students come in to seek help. The grant will help figure out the issues among the different tribes and find solutions for them. Strickland believes that most Native American students don’t ask for help because they believe nothing will be done about it.
Harris encourages that more students visit CAPS to seek help if needed. She describes the logo on the floor of CAPS, a logo with the Lumbee tribe’s colors represented as a “medicine wheel.”
“I feel like we need to go back to our cultural roots and revitalize because if you look at this, these four parts make up who we are as people,” Harris said. “The spiritual, mental, physical and emotional; when one is out of balance the others suffer.”
UNCP student Genna Locklear of the Lumbee tribe spoke about her and her family’s experience of abuse from her father when she was younger. Being her first-time on stage, Locklear shared with the audience about her fears from the abuse and now she realized “her story is important, and it should be shared because she lived it, she survived it.”
“To anyone out here who needed to hear this, don’t ever feel like there’s no help and you can’t put your life back together,” she said. “Yes, it’s hard, but us women are stronger than we think.”
Vivette Jeffries-Logan of the Occaneechi Band of Saponi Nation spoke on behalf of being a 22-year survivor of violence. She explained the history, demographics and statistics of indigenous women who are being murder compared to other races.
Jeffries-Logan said that organizations like the Urban Indian Health Institute, who identified that there were 506 unique cases of missing and murdered American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls across 71 cities, were receiving death threats. She asked for prayers from the audience.
“Missing, murdered and abusing indigenous women is not an emergency because of the colonial narrative and policies that deny and invisibilize our very existence,” she said. “Despite colonization we are still here.”
Afterwards, all attendees went outside to participate in the smudging ceremony. Pastor Philip Henderson led a prayer before the ceremony and Reggie Brewer lighted the sage.
The group then walked to Old Main, carrying candles. NASO thanked the audience for coming out.
Brewer said this was a great thing everyone did for the women who were going through violence.
PN Photo/Octavia Johnson