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Salt Lake Women’s March honors missing and murdered women

Uyen Hoang leads the Utah Women’s March in chants while the group walks on State Street in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Jan. 18, 2020.
Uyen Hoang leads the Utah Women’s March in chants while the group walks on State Street in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Jan. 18, 2020.
Ivy Ceballo, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Nearly five years ago, the life of 12-year-old Kailey Raine Vigil — who her grandmother says loved animals and was already starting to “drive her own destiny” — was cut short by a killer.

Those years may have passed, but for her family, the pain hasn’t diminished.

“When you go through a loss at the hands of someone else, I think for us, you know, realizing that others have gone through where we are — a lot of times that helps, but it doesn’t reduce the pain or bring her back,” Madeline Greymountain said.

“But bringing awareness and recognizing that there is an issue in your community, and having the community to come together in solidarity I think is really important,” she said.

That’s why the family marched in the fourth annual Women’s March Saturday — toting signs with a photo of a smiling Kailey — along with other members of Utah’s American Indian community to draw attention to the high rate of missing and murdered indigenous women in the state and country.

The march also drew several hundred others of all ages and genders to the state Capitol to shed light on the issue of missing and murdered women in general.

“It’s all missing and murdered women, whether that stems from domestic violence, lack of resources for sexual physical health, racial discrimination, hate crime, (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), any of that,” said Dieu Hoang, one of the local march’s seven student organizers.

As a second generation Vietnamese American, Hoang said she faced “a lot of racial discrimination” in her life.

“So that’s something I personally have struggled a lot with growing up, and that’s something I want to change,” she said.

The march began at the Salt Lake City-County Building. While trekking to the Capitol, the crowd chanted a variety of slogans including: “Say it loud, say it clear, immigrants are welcome here,” “Protect Native women,” “Women’s rights are humans rights” and “Elect more women.”

When the group reached the Capitol, speakers focused on the difficulties facing women of color, those in jail and LGBT women. Speakers also called for criminal justice reform, more women in politics and pay equality.

Michelle Brown, Dine Navajo campaign chairwoman of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women of Utah, said Native women are murdered at 10 times the national average, with homicide the third leading cause of death for indigenous women between 10 and 24 years old.

“Fifty-six percent of Native women have experienced sexual violence, myself included. Ninety-seven percent of indigenous women experience violence by a perpetrator who was not American Indian or Alaska Native,” Brown said.

Currently, tribal police can’t prosecute a non-Native who has committed a crime on tribal lands, she said. They can only ban the person from returning.

“It is easy for predators to kill indigenous people because they get away with it. And as for Native Americans who live or grow up in cities when their children go missing, the FBI and local law enforcement tend to waste valuable time trying to decide over jurisdiction and who the case belongs to. But when an indigenous person commits a crime, there is no confusion on who is allowed to prosecute them,” Brown said.

Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, is sponsoring a bill this session that would create a task force to address the issues of murdered and missing indigenous women, girls and LGBTQ.

Ashley Fine and Kennedy Stoner, friends of slain University of Utah student Mackenzie Lueck, sported pink baseball caps in memory of their friend and carried a banner with her photo on it. They said they were there to draw attention to victims of violence.

“We also, I think, are really dedicated to supporting victims and families that have gone through what our best friend went through. So we’re just here to advertise and advocate,” Fine said.

She and Stoner started a nonprofit group called Mackenzie’s Voice after their friend’s murder in June. The women are working to help others find resources for self-defense classes, online dating awareness courses and safety training. They also want to create resources to help families coping with loved ones who have gone missing.

“Because when we were going through this, we had to do a lot of different things that we didn’t even know about. And so to have something else that somebody else can kind of reference is kind of what we’re trying to do,” Fine said.

“What brought me out today is that I want to create change. And I feel like right now, we live in a patriarchal society, and I think if we don’t come out, and we don’t put in the effort, then nothing’s going to change,” said Hannah Knaphus, who attended the march with her husband and infant.

As a new mother, she was struck by the stories about incarcerated women who have babies or miscarry and don’t receive proper care in prison or jail.

Her husband, Nathaniel Knaphus, said he had been anxious about attending the march.

“I grew up really conservative, and I just feel like I’ve changed a lot. I just want to make sure that there’s people from all walks of life that support this movement. Even if there’s one or two things that I’m still a little uncertain of, definitely, overall, I feel like women’s rights are a lot more important than I used to think they are,” he said.

Greymountain, the grandmother of Kailey Vigil, described the family’s participation in the event as “uplifting.”

It was a chance to bring awareness about protecting children from predators. Kailey’s parents at times have felt judged and have experienced depression since her death, Greymountain said, but Saturday was an opportunity to feel the community’s support.

“Us as Natives, our spirituality is a part of who we are. And having a strong spirit carries many of us forward in life. We live with our spirit as well as, there’s a balance inside of each one of us, and our spirit is a part of that balance. And so when something happens, like what happened with Kailey, our spirit is broken sometimes. And so with people coming together like they have today, it really helps our spirit regain the strength that all of us have,” she said.