Community organizers of the missing and murdered indigenous women and girls movement in Billings are trying to shift the focus to include men and boys.
The Line the Rims in Red event Sunday night on the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.
A few hundred people wore red and lined up along the rimrock sandstone that overlooks Billings.
Reno Charette with the Native American Achievement Center at Montana State University-Billings directed the crowd through a megaphone.
MSUB hosted the event, along with the Native American Development Corporation, female empowerment group Zonta, and the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council.
So far, the movement has drawn attention to the disproportionately high number of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, but Charette said many Native American boys and men are missing, too.
“And we’ve seen it on Facebook most prominently when there’s been young men that have disappeared and they have not found them for a very long time and, if they’re found, they’re usually not alive. So, this is a heartbreak our Native communities have been burdened with for quite some time,” said Charette.
While Native Americans make up less than 7 percent of Montana’s total population, indigenous men and boys account for 17 percent of the males on the the Montana Department of Justice missing persons clearinghouse.
Thirty-four-year-old Hub Williamson, who was was last seen in the beginning of April, is on the list.
Williamson’s cousin, Frank Backbone, is a member of Northern Cheyenne Search and Rescue. He said they held a search for Williamson last Friday between Hardin and Crow Agency.
“We started at noon at, we searched until 7 at night, but we couldn’t find nothing,” said Backbone.
Williamson is only one family member Backbone has lost.
Backbone’s cousin, Robert Garrett Stewart Jr., went missing a few years ago, and last December the body of Backbone’s niece, 14-year-old Henny Scott, was discovered after she went missing earlier that month.
“That’s the reason I joined SAR, because of my niece,” said Backbone. “I work for Northern Cheyenne Research and Rescue, first responder. When my niece went missing, that triggered me to join search and rescue.”
Goldstein Little Eagle from Lame Deer is looking for solutions by addressing larger community problems, like substance abuse.
He said about a year and a half ago, after a struggle with alcoholism, he started a group called Run Defending Native Culture, which combines walking and running with prayer and support.
“The more that we talk about prevention of certain things, of raising our kids and teaching our kids and being adults and being role models, if we do these types of things before and keep it going for the rest of our lives, there just might be less of these tragic things happening around our Nations,” said Little Eagle.
Meanwhile, Line the Rims in Red organizer Reno Charette says she and other leaders are looking for solutions through policy change and funding.
The Montana legislature recently passed several related bills, including one that establishes and funds a missing persons specialist in the state called Hanna’s Act. The governor signed the act into law last week.