Families for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Relatives rally in Shiprock

The weekend event builds community for people who are processing trauma

By: - May 24, 2022 4:30 am

Seraphine Warren walks from the west toward Shiprock carrying a pray stick and burning sage on May 21, 2022. Warren organized the, “Reunite our Missing,”event to raise awareness on MMIWR and her missing aunt, Ella Mae Begay. (Photo by Cyrus Norcross / Source NM)

SHIPROCK – Advocates and family walked from all four directions to Nizhoni Park last weekend to express how life has changed since losing a loved one.

“This isn’t just about my aunt, this is for all those people that came today,” said Seraphine Warren, organizer of the Reunite our Missing event. “They don’t have anybody to turn to. Somebody has to do something.”

Her aunt, Ella Mae Begay, has been missing since June 15, 2021. Warren organizes walks, rallies and has been attending meetings focused on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Relatives since her aunt’s disappearance.

Justice for Relatives

“There are a lot of families in the same situation as I am,” she said. “Sometimes when you tell your stories to somebody, it clicks. That person may help you in a different way by showing us another way to approach problems.”

Warren discussed how it is difficult adjusting to a family member disappearing and how it takes its toll on mental health.

“It’s still hard. Yesterday I went to her house to check on her cat. I knocked on the door as if she was going to answer the door,” she said. “I went in and started calling my auntie. I don’t want to be in there anymore. That feeling, I don’t feel like doing this. It just seems like nobody wants to help us.”

“We don’t mean nothing to nobody,” she said.

HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATION BRING MEMORIES OF MURDERED BROTHER

Shanna Nez spoke about her brother Jevon Descheenie who was last seen alive in the custody of the Navajo Nation Police. He was found less than a mile away from the police department on November 12, 2021.

“Today was a pretty good walk, it goes back to prayers,” she said. “Walking 5 miles in, listening to nature, listening to your thought process. Asking what else we can do? It puts me at ease.”

Family members of Zachariah Juwaun Shorty walk in from the east to Shiprock on May 21, 2022. Shorty’s was last seen alive by his mother in Farmington, New Mexico in a hotel room. Shorty’s body would be found four days later in Upper Fruitland, New Mexico. (Photo by Cyrus Norcross / Source NM)

Nez discussed the importance of raising awareness on MMIWR and how the movement is becoming a family.

“The people who are here. We made a pretty big statement,” she said. ”We share our stories, share our updates, support each other, we are becoming family. For a lot of them that’s what encourages them to keep doing what they do.”

Nez spoke about why attending these events helps families heal and gives them strength to continue to move forward.

“Talking to someone, who has not experienced this, they won’t understand,” she said. “All the feelings, the thoughts, why you are doing what you are doing. They won’t understand. But the people who are here today, they understand, it has strength, it has blessing, it makes this that much more important.”

She spoke about how her father is going through a stressful moment as high school graduations are happening everywhere.

“Around this time last year, my brother had graduated,” Nez said. “My dad went to his graduation ceremony and with all the graduation happening, all of those feelings are coming back to him. He’s been feeling really sad.”

Nez talked about how she wants to continue to raise awareness and to help other families who are going through the same situation..

“I try to keep myself busy,” she said. “In the back of my mind, I keep asking myself, what else can I do? How can I be helpful? How can I get this stuff out there? Let it be known, people need to know about what is happening here. I just want to be helpful to people who are going through this.”

FAMILY SEEKING JUSTICE

Jamie Yazzie’s remains were found on the Hopi reservation in November 2021 and the family was not informed until February 2022, her aunt Marilene James said.

“It’s sad for me knowing that there are people missing out there, still looking for their family members,” James said. “It’s hard, hard dealing with everyday life, not knowing if she is okay, where she was at, if she was already gone.”

Marilene James and Tomas Qurioz walk from the south toward Shiprock carrying signs of their loved one, Jamie Yazzie, on May 21, 2022. Jamie Yazzie’s remains were found on the Hopi reservation in November 2021, there are no suspects at this time. (Photo by Cyrus Norcross / Source NM)

Since Jamie Yazzie was found, James said that there have been no suspects and that the family is looking for justice for her niece.

“After she was found, it was a bit relieving,” she said. “But not fully. Because right now we are still fighting for justice for Jamie. We had a meeting with the FBI and we walked out of there feeling hopeless. The FBI just said that they have nothing as far as charging anyone and they have no suspects.”

James said that it was disappointing hearing sad news from the FBI and that is vital to continue to raise awareness.

“They basically said they give up,” she said. “They could have said, hang in there, we are still fighting and we are working the case. But that’s not what we got from them. So we are going to keep fighting no matter what. Even if you have to do it on your own. Justice for the murdered.”

DISAPPOINTMENT IN GOVERNMENT

Navajo Nation Presidential candidate Earl Sombrero attended the event and expressed how these issues affect people of the Navajo Nation and criticized the tribal government for not reacting swiftly.

“These organizers have always tried reaching out to our leaders,” he said. “This group reached out to Navajo President Jonathan Nez, and the president referred them to the first lady. Rather than referring people to different places, we should be able to create resources for our people that can help them.”

Jeanelle Bennett and Nelson Yellowman walked from the north to Shiprock burning sage and carrying signs for Ranelle Bennet on May 21, 2022. Ranelle Bennet was last seen on the morning of June 15, 2021 in Hogback, New Mexico. (Photo by Cyrus Norcross / Source NM)

Sombrero spoke about how many of these issues can be addressed at the community level and the need for creating resources for them.

“A lot of these issues are at the community level and it seems they go unaddressed for a long period of time,” he said. “People think that it is okay to do this type of stuff. There are no repercussions when they do it. We need to create a treatment center, create something that tells people that what they are doing is not right.”

Sombrero brought up how health and mental health doesn’t seem to be a concern for the Navajo Nation and it is something that he would like to provide.

“A lot of times the Navajo Nation procrastinates on doing what is necessary to bring resolutions to people’s issues. We turn a blind eye to issues people face,“ he said. “We don’t provide resources to help them overcome these hardships. Most of the time we are focused on how to spend the next dollar.”

Sombrero discussed that he feels that solutions for these issues can be addressed off the Navajo Nation.

“It’s time the people’s needs are addressed. Instead of focusing on a centralized government, we need to go to communities and hear them out,” he said. “The Navajo Nation needs to prioritize this. We need to be asking people, how can we help you? How can we raise awareness? We need to focus on being active with our people instead of being focused on the centralized government.”

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Cyrus Norcross
Cyrus Norcross

Cyrus Norcross is a writer and photographer. His work can be seen in the Navajo Times.

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