St, Joseph’s Indian School Conducts Ceremony for MMIR

Posted on: May 8, 2024

On an afternoon in early May, a bit cooler than seasonal and under cloudy skies, students in first through twelfth grades and staff gathered on the lawn of the Wisdom Circle on the campus of St. Joseph’s Indian School for a solemn event. The gathering was a ceremony to pray, raise awareness and request healing and resolution around the issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives (MMIR/MMIP/MMIW).

Why? For Native women on reservations alone, not only is the murder rate ten times higher than the national average, but also murder is the third leading cause of death. Men and children also experience higher rates of disappearance and murder. The school’s Counseling Services Department that organized the event understands that many students know these realities firsthand. The ceremony provided the opportunity to acknowledge loss as well as educate about protective factors.                   

Allison Morrisette, MMIP Coordinator for the South Dakota Division of Criminal Justice, addressed the students, noting the importance of raising awareness and educating at-risk students. “It would be good to have more events like this around the entire state South Dakota and not just in Chamberlain. I think you guys are setting a good precedent for the state to follow,” she said.

Expressions of grief and healing included a round dance with prayer and healing songs by the school’s Pahá Makȟásaŋ Lowáŋpi (Chalk Hills Singers drum group). Participants moved through a red hand-print station where they could imprint themselves or one of the school’s therapy horses as a sign of solidarity and prayer for the missing. They made prayer ties, as well.

Sixth-grader Say’Dee Summers said, “I think MMIR is important because when a relative goes missing in our Thióšpaye circle, it creates a ripple effect.”

Seventh-grader Rayne Grassrope added, “It’s about my culture and about our missing indigenous relatives and their whereabouts. We are praying for them and hope they find their way back home.”

The event culminated with a walk to American Creek Park to build community awareness. Students proudly wore t-shirts for the event designed by fifth-grader Gabrielle Sharpfish, whose artwork was the winning submission. The South Dakota Humanities Council funded the t-shirts.