Survivor Advocates Continue Vital Work with Victims of Abuse and Assault

Last Friday, Michigan and many other regions of the country recognized Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples day. Bringing awareness to missing persons cases, and violence committed against Native Americans. The day of awareness pulls back the curtain on very uncomfortable topics, but is important to understanding the damage caused by historic tragedies perpetrated against tribal nations.

“I think a lot of the day is about raising education, raising awareness. Because a lot of people don’t know about the issue, outside of Indian Country and tribal communities. So I think, it’s like Melissa said, important for non-Native people, and people outside of tribal communities to become aware of this issue. And become aware of the signs of abuse, trafficking or assault. And for people in our community it’s important for us to be seen, and these issues exist within our communities. And we have people in the community who need to step up, to protect people in the community.” – Sierra Ayers, Walking the Path Together Program Coordinator, Northern Michigan University

In 2020, two of Michigan tribes, were asked to join a pilot program to collect data on missing persons cases; the Bay Mills Indian Community and the Sault  Tribe of Chippewa Indians. The program has since been renewed. But without action taken to more readily support victim services; data collection does not do enough to address the missing and murder indigenous persons issue.

“Like Michigan was chosen as one of the states to be a part of that project. And I think there were six out of the twelve tribes, or Five of the twelve. That actually got to work with the Department of Justice. Our tribe was not one of those. And we created our own MMIP plan based on that project. But I wonder if that effort is actually followed through on. Because I feel like, often times. Like the Non-Invisible Act, the Savanna’s Act, they do all these great things for collecting data. And making people work together better, like tribal governments and non-tribal governments, sharing information and stuff like that. So, I’m excited to see what’s coming. But I’m not sure how much has changed in that relationship.” – Sierra Ayers, Walking the Path Together Program Coordinator, Northern Michigan University

The Savannah’s Act requires U.S. District attorney offices to develop regionally specific guidelines for response to missing persons cases. Michigan MMIP Coordinator, Joel Postma’s contract was extended, and the role made permanent; An action from the federal government that renews the relationship between state and tribal governments. While tribal leadership continues to develop the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community MMIP Response Plan, and identify partner organizations. Niimigimiwang Survivor Advocates continue to work with the community to educate residents on how to recognize signs of trafficking. As well as directly working with victims on their road to recovery.

“When someone comes in we see them as the whole, like Sierra said. It’s kind of gauging what they need. Where they’re at. Like, the whole environment that they’re in, and where they want to be, if they don’t want be in that situation. And then just, listening to what they have to say. And what they want, in terms of if we can be that stepping stone. For them to do what they need to do to get back into a healthy lifestyle. Or back to being independent or on their own.” – Carisa LaFernier, Survivor Advocate, Niimigimiwang Transitional Home, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community

The Niimigimiwang Transitional Home with the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community is open 24 hours, seven days a week. Their survivor advocates work with men and women, the LGBTQ+ community, and first nations children. The transitional home also works within the community and provides education and community programs to raise awareness for domestic and sexual assault victims, and missing and murdered person’s cases.