At the April 17 Tacoma City Council meeting, the council unanimously passed a proclamation establishing May 5 as a Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Americans. This represented a very important event in the lives of tribal members who are suffering from the loss of loved ones who are missing or murdered, providing some solace to their hearts and minds.
Carolyn DeFord, senior administrative assistant at the Puyallup Tribe’s Community Domestic Violence Advocacy Program (CDVAP), was there to accept the proclamation with Puyallup tribal member Lisa Earl, whose daughter Jacqueline Salyers was killed by Tacoma police in 2016. After Mayor Victoria Woodards read the complete proclamation out loud, DeFord – who has lost her mother and cousin – addressed the council.
“On behalf of our families of missing and murdered Native and Indigenous people, we would like to thank Mayor Woodards and the Tacoma City Council,” she said. “For many of our families of our missing, there is no ceremony, no funeral and no closure. Each day, each week, each month and each year that our loved ones are missing, the chaos and fear remain very much current and present. This recognition provides a little bit of justice and healing for those who have been taken from us too soon, and for the families still very much coping day by day with the loss of their loved ones.”
There is still much work to be done, DeFord told the council, and recognizing the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous people is just the first step in acknowledging and continuing the dialog around the issue, creating safer communities for our families and our children.
“We absolutely need policy change in order to effectively respond to our missing persons cases and the inter-jurisdictional challenges faced in Indian country. Further, we need to reduce the risk factors that are causing our Native population to go missing or be murdered and we have to address the impacts of historical trauma through domestic violence, substance abuse, poverty, child abuse and neglect, interaction with the foster care system, homelessness and human trafficking. By establishing and promoting cultural revitalization and access to culturally relevant services, we can heal and lead change in our community,” she said.
Lisa Earl also thanked the mayor and council. “I am so pleased to have our city council and our mayor recognize this very delicate issue,” she said.
Afterward, Mayor Woodards thanked the two women for their courage in standing up to make city leaders aware of missing and murdered Native Americans. “We can’t solve what we don’t know and what we don’t bring to the forefront of everyone in this community,” she said.
DeFord and Earl then gifted hand-beaded necklaces to the mayor and each council member as a gesture of thanks and goodwill.