March 05, 2020

Red Ribbon Skirt Society's Healing Center for MMIW

Madonna Thunder Hawk

Last month, my sister Mabel Ann and I attended an Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) action in Rapid City, SD. We met Lily Mendoza, co-founder of the Red Ribbon Skirt Society (RRSS), a grassroots collective dedicated to confronting the crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, children, two-spirit and transgender people. In 2019, they opened the MMIW Center for Healing, Prayer, and Remembrance — a small, permanent space to honor and grieve the people our community has lost.

You can watch and share our latest video in which we interview Lily and take a tour of the space.

The notion for the center came from an art installation curated just over a year ago. Around Valentine's Day last year, RRSS hung 70 red dresses on cottonwood trees to symbolize our stolen sisters and relatives. What they discovered was the need for a space our community didn’t have, a space for people to go and reconnect.

“People were going there, amongst the dresses, and they were going there to pray and to remember those that they lost or those that are still missing," said Mendoza, an enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. "We’ve felt we need to do this then, to have a space for community to come.”

As you may know, Indigenous women, children, two-spirit, and transgender folks are more likely to be targeted by human traffickers and/or be the victim of a violent crime. And, all too often, when our relatives go missing, they also go missing in the news. But centers like the one in Rapid City can help us keep their memories alive.

Members of the collective also participated in the MMIW Medicine Wheel Ride last year — a massive motorcycle journey bringing together people from the four corners to mourn our lost relatives.

As I work with my fellow grandmothers in the Was'agiya Najin and others to organize ground strategy at Cheyenne River against the Keystone XL pipeline, it's increasingly important for all of us to stand in solidarity with those working on this crisis wherever they may be. The Red Ribbon Skirt Society is helping families recover from devastating loss and bringing attention to these ongoing acts of genocide against the heart of our people.

You help spread the word about this incredible group of women and their transformative space by watching and sharing the video. You can also keep up to date with their work by following The Shamus Project on Facebook.