Skye was Alecia Onzahwah’s quiet child, always compassionate and funny even when she was struggling in life.
Her murder has prompted Onzahwah to speak out and seek answers she believes investigators have never tried to find.
“We’ve always been called the Indian ‘problem’,” said Onzahwah, who is Absent Shawnee. “We are not a problem. Systemic racism is the problem. We are a people.
The crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous peoples was in the spotlight Thursday at events across the United States and Canada.
Onzahwah was among 250 people who gathered inside the Oklahoma State Capitol to share stories about loved ones and urge lawmakers to do more. Many of Onzahwah’s family members wore white T-shirts printed with Skye’s name and a red handprint.
‘My daughter has disappeared’: New laws fail to protect Indigenous women from higher murder rates
Skye Jim was 30 years old. She had five children. She had a job she loved as a casino cage manager but was made redundant at the start of the pandemic. She was Sac and Fox, Absentee Shawnee and Kickapoo.
She died after being hit by a car on a rural road under Interstate 40 in Pottawatomie County. Onzahwah focuses on what happened in the moments and hours leading up to this.
Investigators told her in October the case was closed, she said.
“Nobody should have to go through this,” said Onzahwah, of Tecumseh.
Indigenous women face more violence and go missing more often
More than four in five Aboriginal women will be victims of violence in their lifetime, and two in five will have been victims of violence in the past year.
Indigenous women living on reservations are 10 times more likely to be killed than the average American woman, and homicide is the third leading cause of death for all Indigenous women, regardless of where they live.
Indigenous people are also disappearing at disproportionate rates. Due to gaps in federal law enforcement databases, it is impossible to know how many people are still missing. The Bureau of Indian Affairs estimates the number to be close to 4,200 people.
Questions about law enforcement jurisdiction can hamper or stall investigations in many parts of the United States
“Missing women are at the center of our tribal nations,” said Cindy Famero, of Lawton, who leads the Warrior Woman Society, a prevention group. “Without them, we don’t have our center. If we don’t have our center, we don’t have our roots.
Growing public awareness of the crisis has prompted federal and state officials to take steps to close cases and improve security in Indian Country.
Three Oklahomans on commission seeking to investigate and ameliorate systemic issues
President Joe Biden proclaimed National Missing and Murdered Indigenous Awareness Day on Thursday.
Home Secretary Deb Haaland last year created a Bureau of Indian Affairs unit dedicated to trying to close unsolved cases. Haaland, who is Laguna Pueblo, became interior secretary last year after serving in Congress as a congresswoman from New Mexico. In this role, she pushed federal officials to investigate cases of missing and murdered Indigenous people and form a commission to try to address systemic issues.
She announced Thursday the 37 members of the commission, including three from Oklahoma: State Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Dale Fine Jr.; Shawnna Roach, Cherokee Nation Marshal Service Investigator; and Carmen Harvie, president of the Oklahoma National Missing and Murdered Native Chapter.
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The group is one of many across Oklahoma dedicated to helping Native families find missing loved ones. They were all pictured at the State Capitol on Thursday. Investigators from OBSI and the BIA were also present, as were a handful of state lawmakers.
The hours-long event took place in the second-floor rotunda near Gov. Kevin Stitt’s office.
In 2021, Stitt signed Ida’s Law, which directs OBSI to work with federal officials to fund and create an office dedicated to investigating Indigenous murders and disappearances.
Law is named after Ida Beard, who disappeared from El Reno in 2015. She is from the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes.
But many people gathered on Thursday said Ida’s law was not enough to protect indigenous women and ensure their disappearances and deaths were investigated.
Famero, who also helps lead the Oklahoma MMIP chapter, said she thinks state authorities could take a fundamental first step.
“They need to connect with us,” said Famero, who is Comanche and Lakota. “Contact us… They never call back.
Rep. Jacob Rosecrants, D-Norman, agreed lawmakers needed to do more. He cited state funding for Ida’s law, which was not included in the 2021 legislation.
After her daughter’s death, Onzahwah learned how difficult it was to navigate law enforcement channels and other resources available to families.
She created The Skye Woman Project, a website to help other families. It’s important to share her daughter’s story because it could save someone else, she said.
“Which girl is next?” she says. “That’s what I fear – whose daughter is next.”
Molly Young covers Indigenous affairs for the USA Today Network’s Sunbelt region. Reach her at [email protected] or 405-347-3534.
This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Families come together to raise awareness of missing and murdered Indigenous women