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Missing, murdered indigenous women movement ignites in Mountain West

WYOMING – Recent gripping headline news stories concerning missing Native American women have highlighted what a widespread and untold story this has become over the years on Reservations throughout the Mountain West.

Poster and bill board campaign has been well underway in Wyoming beginning last year.

The search for 16-year-old Selena Not Afraid ended Monday when the teen’s body was found within a mile of the I-90 rest area where she was reported last seen. The Hardin, Montana woman—who lived on the Crow reservation with her mother near Billings—had been missing since shortly after January 1. A coroner determined cause of death to be hypothermia, people in Montana and Sheridan marched this week to demand justice. “We don’t just die,” Isabella Youngtail told a crowd of Sheridan marchers as reported by The Sheridan Press. “We don’t just disappear. If we’re late coming home, look for us.”

Last summer, another young lady—Kaysera Stops Pretty Places, 18—was found August 29 dead in the backyard of a Hardin, Montana home after she had been missing for two days. The death has been classified as “suspicious,” but, to date, medical examiners still don’t know how she died. No arrests have been made in the case.

Kaysera Stops Pretty Places. Courtesy

And these are not isolated cases. Kaysera officially became the 27th missing or murdered indigenous woman in Big Horn County, Montana. Selena makes 28. In Montana alone, Native Americans make up 6.7% of the total population, but account for 26% of missing persons cases. It is believed Wyoming has comparable statistics but the state still does not report the number of American Indian persons who are missing.

It’s a problem that has persisted for generations. Most of the cases remain unsolved. Many are never reported or investigated. Slogans like “No More Stolen Sisters” and #MMIW (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls) are cropping up everywhere and a movement has begun in Montana and, now, Wyoming.

The Big Sky State recently commissioned a task force to look into the issue. Several bills at the last Montana Legislature were written to help Native American families find relief and justice. Last July, Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon announced he was appointing members to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Task Force.

“I’m eager for us to tackle this issue, as I believe it is imperative to ensure the public safety of all Wyoming citizens,” Gordon stated.

Still a problem

County 10 reported days ago that a search is on for missing Jade Keilee Wagon, 23, a Fremont County resident and Native American of the Wind River reservation. She was last seen January 2, 2020.

That same publication’s podcast on January 21, called Dead & Gone in Wyoming, reported on the remains of a woman found in Sweetwater County recently, speculating it could be 12-year-old Sharon Baldeagle who has been missing from Casper since 1984.

According to a statement yesterday from the Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office, this correlation is erroneous.

Sharon Baldeagle. Photo: Unidentified Wiki

The discovery of human remains in the area of Jim Bridger Power Plant in Sweetwater County was made back in June 2019. A portion of a human skull was discovered and reported to the Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office and Bureau of Land Management. At the time, examiners were unable to age the remains.

Two months later, the Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office, Sweetwater County Coroner’s Office, Bureau of Land Management, and University of Wyoming Anthropology Department personnel conducted an additional search in order to locate more remains from the initial discovery. Additional pieces of skeletal remains were located and taken to the University of Wyoming for additional analysis. That process is still underway.

While the case remains under investigation and all the answers are not yet known, officials said they can declare that the remains appear to be that of a younger female of either European or Native American descent and are, more likely than not, prehistoric in nature. Additional testing and analysis is being conducted by the University of Wyoming Anthropology Department, which should provide further insight as to the age and origin of the remains.

Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office was deluged with calls following the podcast episode. The department apologizes for the false hope provided to Ms. Baldeagle’s family due to erroneous information, but remains hopeful that she will eventually be located.

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