Native communities gather across North Bay to honor Missing Murdered Indigenous Women

Native children and adults danced at the Ya-Ka-Ama Indian Education Center in Forestville Friday, which was recognized as Murdered Indigenous Persons Awareness Day.|

Joe Salinas thought about his daughter and nieces as he sang Friday night around a fire pit in a misty west Sonoma County forest.

“We all have children, and to put ourselves in those parents’ places, that’s when it really starts to get real,” said Salinas, founder of Sonoma County Pomo Dancers.

“God forbid my daughter ever goes missing but I can only imagine the pain those families must be going through.”

Native children and adults dressed in rain-soaked Pomo regalia swayed to Salinas’ voice as mud caked their feet.

This gathering, at the Ya-Ka-Ama Indian Education Center in Forestville, was part of the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women movement, which advocates for an end to violence against Native women.

Indigenous women experience violence up to 10 times higher than the national average, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Homicide is the third-leading cause of death among them.

The recent killings of two young Covelo people — Ruby Montelongo, 16, and Nicholas Whipple, 20 — spread grief and alarm among the Round Valley Indian Tribe community. And they can’t let girls and women who are murdered or missing become another statistic, Salinas said.

By dancing and rallying, these events give them a voice. “That’s why we’re getting our feathers wet,” he said.

President Joe Biden recognized May 5 as Murdered Indigenous Persons Awareness Day for the third consecutive year. He called for greater efforts to raise awareness of the issue and address the underlying causes.

But the recent deaths in Covelo, which is part of the Round Valley Indian Tribal Reservation, have stirred up trauma from past area murders and unsolved cases.

Nicole Smith, a 32-year-old Native woman, was shot to death sleeping in her Manchester home in 2017. Her killing remains unsolved.

In 2018, Kadijah Britton, a 23-year-old member of the Wailacki Round Valley Indian Tribe was last seen being pulled into a car at gunpoint in Covelo.

Her family is still without an answer, a criminal conviction or a burial. Today, Britton would be 29 years old.

Ya-Ka-Ama Board member Kristi Lozinto said she organized the event to heal through ceremony and bring awareness for the lost Native women, “because they can’t speak.”

Ya-Ka-Ama Indian Education and Development is a Pomo-led nonprofit that supports Native people with educational resources and opportunities.

With many other events for the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women movement taking place, Lozinto said she teaches the young dancers that as they dance, all their prayers go up to The Creator, joining with those from other ceremonies to honor the lost loved ones and bring their families answers.

Native communities across the North Bay held similar ceremonies Friday and Saturday.

An event to bring together grieving Round Valley tribe members was held in Covelo, featuring Round Valley Feather Dancers, singing, talking circles, medicine offerings and a potluck.

In Santa Rosa, the Redemption House of the Bay Area planned a silent march Saturday from City Hall to the Peace and Justice Center of Sonoma County. Redemption House of the Bay Area is a nonprofit that supports human trafficking survivors.

You can reach Staff Writer Alana Minkler at 707-526-8531 or On Twitter @alana_minkler.

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