Kateri Marie Mishow would’ve celebrated her 37th birthday Wednesday, Sept. 22, but instead her cousin, Kayla Weyaus, who shares a birthday with Mishow, spent the day calling attention to the plight of missing and murdered Indigenous women.
Weyaus is among the survivors who knows how it feels to lose a loved one and not know what happened to them. She joined a healing walk Wednesday at Superior's Harbor View Park and along the Osaugie Trail.
Several Indigenous-led organizations hosted the event to bring broader attention to the epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, two-spirit people and relatives as part of an eight-week effort to build bridges of support for Indigenous communities affected by violence.
“We were really, really close,” Weyaus said.
Mishow, an Indigenous woman living in Minneapolis, was 22 when she went missing on Jan. 8, 2007.
“There were stories going around that she tried to rob a drug dealer and the drug dealer cut her up and scattered her in different places,” Weyaus. “I don’t know how true that is.”
Weyaus said she gets the feeling that her cousin is nearby when she visits Minnehaha Falls, but she really doesn’t know what happened to Mishow.
When her cousin went missing, Weyaus heard from authorities that they were looking for a missing person.
“They didn’t care or look for her,” Weyaus said. “They never did anything. It hurts.”
Phoebe Davis, a Duluth Indigenous commissioner, said she doesn’t know any Indigenous family that doesn’t have a missing or murdered family member. On her father’s side of the family, Davis said several relatives have gone missing near the Bakken Oil Fields in North Dakota.
“I don’t have a number so that should tell you how scary it is,” Davis said.
And she worries those family members have become victims of human trafficking or worse.
Victoria Hogan, who presented organizer Rene Ann Goodrich of the Native Lives Matter Coalition with a painting of red-shawled dancers, came out to support the effort.
“I have a nephew I haven’t heard from in years,” Hogan said.
She said his disappearance is likely a continuation of generational trauma that goes back to the boarding school days, when Indigenous children were taken from their villages, denied the opportunity to learn about their culture and language, and abused in boarding schools. In some cases, she said, Indigenous people become addicted to drugs, which only makes them more vulnerable to people who would harm them.
Sid Perrault, spiritual leader for the American Indian Movement in Duluth, said he attended a boarding school when he was a child. He conducted the pipe ceremony for Wednesday's event because AIM is the “protector of the ladies.”
Hogan, whose spirit name is Southern Sky Woman, said the way to bring healing and safety back to Indigenous communities is to listen and learn.
To educate the public, the Native Lives Matter Coalition launched its first billboard campaign in Superior to encourage people to say something if they see something.
The billboard says 5,600 Indigenous women were reported missing in the U.S. in 2020, Goodrich said.
“Never give up hope,” Weyaus said. “Just keep praying they come home.”