California State University of Bakersfield (CSUB) and the Native & Indigenous Student Coalition planned events for this year’s National Week of Action to spread awareness regarding the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW), which often includes young girls and two-spirit individuals.
“You can’t have advocacy without education,” Silva stated. “You have to teach them the truth about native and indigenous cultures versus what you’re learning throughout childhood, which is Euro-centric.”
Monday’s event was an intimate gathering to watch a documentary, Bring Her Home by Leya Hale. Angela Two Stars and Hale joined the gathering to answer questions after attendees watched the film. It highlighted Two Stars and other indigenous women’s fight to bring justice and healing for MMIW.
On Wednesday the CSUB Student Union had red dresses hanging above the main entrance, and the Native and Indigenous Student Coalition had ways to participate to honor the process. There was a banner where onlookers could paint their hands red and sign their names, and there were ways to nourish themselves.
Kaley Logan Brown Soren is the coalition’s Social Media Chair and an organizer for the week’s events.
“I know a lot of work went into [the march], and I’m just there to support where I could. It took pushing and politely asking,” Soren said.
Soren explained after getting permission from CSUB and finalizing all the plans that she was optimistic about the event’s participation. She also expressed how meaningful indigenous visibility is on campus.
“I’m a reconnecting native of the Cherokee Nation, and it’s been such a long process of getting back into the culture. When I met [the Native and Indigenous Student Coalition] here at CSUB it was the best feeling,” Soren shared.
For Soren, the main goal for Friday’s march is to inspire others to speak out on issues like MMIW, and for other institutions like CSUB to create advocacy for indigenous people internationally.
“It’s okay to approach us and ask us questions. A lot of the things we talk about are taboo topics, especially MMIW, that’s why it took so long to get awareness for it. We want indigenous students on campus to know that they are seen and they are heard,” stated Soren.
On Friday it will be Red Dress Day due to the use of colorful garments to represent each lost, missing, or murdered loved one. The significance of the red color is to help loved ones find their way back to their community, it is also well-accepted as a spiritual color that helps connect individuals to their ancestors. The red hand print is also an important symbol, often displayed on top of an individual’s mouth to depict the forced silence of survivors and the chilling silence from authorities who were trusted to investigate cases for MMIW.
David Benjamin Silva, the President of The Native & Indigenous Student Coalition, expressed how important it is to him to spread awareness on issues that affect fellow indigenous people.
“The reason why it’s so important to be able to have cultural clubs like these, especially on a campus, this campus sits on Native American land,” Silva stated.
CSUB currently resides on native and indigenous land. The Tejon Tribe known as The Kitanemuk (KI-TA-NE-MUK) is federally recognized as the original sovereign owners of the property managed by CSUB. This is one of the many reasons it is vital for the educational institution to continue its support of indigenous students and community members.
“We already have these plans and events in motion, they’re ready to go. I’m looking for community engagement. The biggest thing I ask the community for is participation and attendance in this Friday’s march,” Silva said.
According to the National Criminal Justice Training Center of Fox Valley Technical College, forty percent of sex trafficking victims identify as an American or Alaskan Native women. More statistics show that California is among the top ten states with the highest reported MMIW cases.
Individuals who want to participate in spreading awareness can attend the march at CSUB from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Attendees will meet in front of the Student Union Patio, then lead through campus to reconvene back at the patio. Organizers planned a small lunch with refreshments, and there will be an emotional debriefing.