‘We cannot be invisible any longer’
August 11, 2019
On a sunny Saturday in November, dozens of relatives and friends of Rosenda Strong dressed in red and marched through the streets of Wapato in Yakima County. The 31-year-old mother of four had been missing for seven weeks. In April, a vigil was held at a park in Kent to remember Alyssa McLemore, who went missing in 2009 at age 21. They are among the untold numbers of Native American women who have gone missing or been found murdered, with little attention paid outside of Native communities. Advocates say the disproportionate violence and homicides experienced by Native women have been veiled by institutional racism, the invisibility of Native identity, and poor record-keeping by law-enforcement agencies. The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women movement aims to reveal this reality by leading marches, gathering data and telling their stories.
‘Say her name’
August 11, 2019
Roxanne White sees what could have been her fate in the faces of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. An enrolled citizen of the Nez Perce Tribe who was born and raised on the Yakama Nation Reservation, she is one of the most prominent activist voices in Seattle. She harnesses the power of her story to fight for families and victims, and raise awareness of the disproportionate danger that Native women face.
‘Justice for Rosenda’
October 2, 2019
Rosenda Strong was last seen one year ago today, on Oct. 2, 2018. She was a mother of four, a citizen of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and a descendant of the Yakama Nation. Her family and authorities searched for her for 275 days before her remains were found in an unplugged freezer in Wapato, Yakima County, on July 4, 2019. With few answers and Rosenda’s body still in the crime lab, her family struggles to heal from the loss while still keeping her story in the public eye. Anyone with information about Strong’s case can call the Yakama Nation Police Department at 509-865-2933 or the FBI at 509-990-0857, case number 18-010803.
‘Positions of power’
December 10, 2019
Councilmember Debora Juarez is the first enrolled Native American elected to the Seattle City Council, and with that, she says, comes a responsibility to address issues that affect indigenous communities. She is an enrolled citizen of the Blackfeet Nation and grew up on the Puyallup Reservation near Tacoma. After the Seattle Indian Health Board released its report on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in 2018, Juarez reached out to craft a resolution that would commit the city to carrying out research, providing services and collecting data related to missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. It would also create a new police-liaison position “to build relationships and increase trust and engagement” between the SPD and Native communities. On Sept. 9, Resolution 31900 was put to an emotional vote in the council chambers.
‘An open wound’
December 26, 2019
Alyssa McLemore’s family had no idea she had gone missing until Kent police showed up at her grandmother’s house. They said they had received a 911 call April 9, 2009, from the young woman, who asked for help before her phone went dead. In the decade since Alyssa disappeared, her aunt, Tina Russell, has led her family’s efforts to find out what happened to the 21-year-old, who is of Aleut and African-American heritage. Until last year, it had become an increasingly lonely search as interest in the missing-person case waned. But, after connecting with the grassroots Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women movement and leveraging new efforts from the Washington State Patrol to address the crisis, the McLemore family has found renewed strength and resources to continue the search. Anyone with information about Alyssa McLemore is asked to call the Kent Police Department’s tip line at 253-856-5808.
This is a part of an ongoing video series. Please bookmark this page and check back for future episodes.
About the project
On Jan. 20, 2018, Native American women led the Seattle Womxn’s March with a striking statement emblazoned on a handmade sign: Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.
It was a call to action and a demand for lawmakers, law enforcement, the media and the general public to pay attention to the crisis of violence inflicted on Native women for centuries.
Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) is a grassroots movement that began with First Nations women and families in Canada, and compelled the Canadian government to initiate a national inquiry.
The movement has gained momentum in Washington and other U.S. states as organizers lead marches, lobby lawmakers and partner with local organizations like the Urban Indian Health Institute to collect data that backs up their lived experiences.
Seattle Times journalists Bettina Hansen and Lauren Frohne have been following the efforts of local advocates and families who have lost loved ones, and are working to craft stories to reach our readers in a way that feels as personal and grassroots as the movement itself.
Reach out to us with your comments, ideas and stories for this docuseries, “Not Invisible,” at MMIWstories@seattletimes.com.
- Cinematography: Bettina Hansen and Lauren Frohne
- Video editing: Lauren Frohne
- Reporting and text: Lauren Frohne and Bettina Hansen
- Web development: Frank Mina
- Project editors: Kris Higginson, Ray Rivera, Danny Gawlowski
- Audience engagement: Nick Saffan, Nick Eaton