RAPID CITY, S.D. (KELO) — In downtown Rapid City, there’s a safe place for people who’ve been touched by the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons crisis. Inside the Red Ribbon Skirt Society’s healing room you’ll find red objects, each with a special meaning. In this room, you’ll also find deeply personal stories.
“I’m also a survivor of domestic violence,” Darla Black said. “I shouldn’t even be here today, and that’s one of the reasons why I guess I’m a little more passionate about MMIW and when it comes to issues concerning MMIW, because for some reason the Great Spirit kept me here, and maybe it’s because of my voice.”
The Red Ribbon Skirt Society headquartered in Rapid City advocates, supports and educates about the issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. Black is a member of the society and the Oglala Lakota Sioux Tribe.
“In the Lakota way, women are sacred,” Black said. “Women are sacred because the Great Spirit gave them that gift to give life.”
Sharon Brings Plenty gave the gift of life to her daughter Tessa Curley on New Year’s Day in 1981. Four decades later, Tessa’s life ended violently in Box Elder.
“I reached out to other family and friends, and they started a prayer circle, so that’s what’s getting me through, and then Red Ribbon Skirt Society stepped in,” Brings Plenty said.
Lily Mendoza founded the society; she is a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe.
“We go to universities, colleges, community organizations, schools,” Mendoza said. “We do a lot of that work on awareness and in education, and it kind of evolved into that from the thought process of working with families and the process of grieving, it kind of evolved into the education and awareness part.”
“We as women need to stand up like we’re doing right now, we need to unite and say okay, no more, no more violence, no more stolen sisters,” Black said.
Mendoza says it’s a mission that is personal. It’s about companionship and solidarity.
“Whenever, we, there’s a family out there that maybe has a daughter, a granddaughter, a niece that’s murdered, okay, we try our best, every effort to get to the wake and to be there for the funeral for those families,” Mendoza said. “And sometimes we don’t know, don’t even know the families, but it becomes our responsibility to make sure that we are there for those families.”
The society also works with law enforcement.
“Being a former law enforcement officer, I told Lily we have to partner with them, we have to partner with them because to report a person missing begins with them,” Black said. “They have the ability to go door to door to say is this person here.”
“We have that really great relationship with investigators, with lieutenants and all of those individuals in law enforcement,” Mendoza said.
Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons often receive little or no attention. The Red Ribbon Skirt Society is working to change that.
“So what we do is really encourage awareness,” Mendoza said. “Here’s some flyers, please take these, put them up in your community, put them up in your businesses, let’s make a effort to do that.”
There’s a jarring contrast between the natural beauty of South Dakota’s landscape and the stories of many Indigenous people who have called it home but couldn’t enjoy peace, safety or a long life on this land.
“Anytime when we go out, I make sure that we do a land acknowledgment, okay, meaning that I share with those out there that on these lands that you stand on, we know there are probably women that are underneath there, that never made it to raise a family, to be a matriarch, within our societies,” Mendoza said.
So that’s why the Red Ribbon Skirt Society is here: for those who haven’t made it or are missing as well as the people who mourn them.
“We attend these powwows, and we’ll come in their grand entry just to say we’re here, we’re the Red Ribbon Skirt Society, we’re here to help, and then we’re here to remember all these ladies,” Black said. “We’re a spokespeople for them.”