BILLINGS — Indigenous Peoples’ Day is Monday, a day to highlight Native Americans who have been reported missing or have been murdered. For one Billings resident, however, the work of the movement happens all year long.
“In the state of Montana currently as of today, we have 49 missing indigenous people,” said founder of MMIP Billings, Charlene Sleeper on Sunday.
It’s an epidemic that Sleeper has dedicated her life to.
“The impact that a missing person has on a family is lifelong if they’re not recovered,” Sleeper said.
It’s why she started MMIP Billings in 2018, an organization dedicated to bridging the cross-cultural gap and raising awareness about the movement. Her focus was a little different this year.
“One of the things that I’ve noticed within the movement is we’re not elevating the sacredness of males within our tribes. And so, I want indigenous males, personally from my perspective, to know how incredibly important they are and that they are part of this movement,” said Sleeper.
Sleeper’s hosting an event through MMIP Billings at the Billings Public Library Monday, honoring two indigenous missing men, Hub Williamson and Robert Garrett Stewart Jr.
“They’re both cousins, they’re related. They were both 34 years old when they went missing,” Sleeper said.
It’s an opportunity for both natives and non-natives to learn more about the epidemic. Sleeper said non-natives are extremely important to the work.
“Once we’re able to engage with each other and gain insight into one another’s perspectives, we have a greater understanding of how our world works in our region,” said Sleeper.
Groups like Sleeper’s have given non-natives like Katie Harrison the resources and courage to make her own waves in the movement.
“This is a tragedy that the whole community should be stepping up and trying to support and figure these problems out and not just leave to indigenous people to try to solve those issues on their own,” Harrison said.
Harrison just collaborated with Sleeper for an event through her nonprofit, SustainaBillings.
“And we came up with an idea to tag a local artist named Ruby Hahn and have Ruby come and do a live painting of the event and we’d auction it off, and that money would be donated to MMIP,” said Harrison.
It’s something that Sleeper appreciates, and she hopes it will catch on.
“We need to continue these conversations is basically what I’m going on. There’s so many things that indigenous peoples need to be not only engaged it but we also need to know that non-natives care which I’m well aware that non-natives do care. I would like to see them show up more often,” Sleeper said.