By Kendall Crawford, Iowa Public Radio
Native communities marched throughout Sioux City on Thursday to bring awareness to missing and murdered Indigenous women and relatives.
Demonstrators marched to honor those whose missing or murder cases remain unsolved within the Native community. The march’s organizers hope to strengthen their relationship with law enforcement to bring justice to lost loved ones.
Director of Operations at the Great Plains Action Society Trisha Etringer said she wants to call attention to what they see as a public health crisis. She said she hasn’t seen much recognition from the state that it is an issue.
“I think we should make it an issue. I think we should disrupt a few things, so to speak. Change doesn’t happen unless we make it happen,” Etringer said.
As protestors walked through downtown, many held signs in remembrance of Terri McCauley, who was found murdered in Sioux City in 1983 and whose case remains unsolved. Her brother Mike McCauley, said not enough was done to solve her murder.
“We expected more,” he said. “And, it’s not happening today. I, for one, need help. I want to close this case, I want closure. Thirty nine years, she’s been laying on top of the hill.”
It’s an issue that reaches beyond the limits of Sioux City. Homicide is the third-leading cause of death among Native American women and Indigenous women face violence at ten times the national average rate, according to the Urban Indian Health Institute.
One of the march’s organizers Joshua Taylor said he hoped the march could help begin a conversation with the local justice department. He said he wants to see more trust between Natives and law enforcement.
“The best thing to do is to show [the Native community] that, ‘Look, they’re not an enemy, they are here to support,” said Taylor, who is the nephew of Terri McCauley. “And although it may not be as fast as we want, they are there to support.”
Sioux City Police Chief Rex Mueller spoke outside of the Woodbury County Courthouse at the demonstration. He said local law enforcement is committed to listening to the Native communities’ needs and wants to stand united on the issue.
“We do hear you,” Mueller said. “We are a part of a team and we know the pain that many years of this has caused in the Indigenous community.”
Other states have seen pushes to address the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous relatives on a legislative level. In Colorado, the legislature considered a bill to create a statewide office to address the disappearances of Native people.
County Attorney Patrick Jennings said he hopes in the future the state of Iowa could look into a similar effort. He said it takes “all of us” to combat the issue.
“We’re not all going to agree on everything. We have never agreed on everything. But we’re open to listening and to working with you,” Jennings said.
The demonstration continued into the evening, where families impacted by loss were invited to eat a meal together and share their experiences with the community. Among those invited is the family of Ashleigh Wabasha, a 19-year old Native woman of the Santee Sioux tribe who was found dead last month. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is looking into her death on a reservation in northeast Nebraska.
Terry Medina, a probation officer in Woodbury County, said he wanted to use this time to come up with an action plan on how to better protect his community.
“This is a new beginning to sit down and make a plan,” Medina said. “And maybe the Siouxland area can be a model for other urban areas to follow. To try to protect our young ones here, our loved ones here.”