Running for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Relatives: A Conversation

By AJ Chlebnik, Kate Schulte, and Lucien Meadows

As the Indian Law Resource Center and the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center share, the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and relatives (MMIWR) is ongoing and devastating. 

In the US, four out of five Indigenous women (80%) have been victimized by violence. The vast majority of Indigenous women (96%) are harmed by non-Indigenous perpetrators. The NIWRC explains that this epidemic of violence “reflects the intersection of genocide, colonization and violence against women, including but not limited to domestic violence, sexual assault, forced sterilization and trafficking.

One way that we as runners and community members can step up to help increase MMIWR awareness is by participating in Indigenous-led MMIWR events, especially during the first week of May, the National Week of Action for MMIWR, and on May 5th, the National Day of Awareness. 

This year, three members of FCRC’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility Committee participated in Native Women Running’s Healing and Prayer Run. Afterward, these members–AJ Chlebnik, Kate Schulte, and Lucien Meadows–gathered for a conversation about their experience.

Why did you decide to participate in observing MMIWR this year?

Kate: I decided to participate in MMIWR this year because it is a small way for me to support the Indigenous people in Northern Colorado, and throughout the USA and Canada.  It has only been in recent years that I have become more aware of the struggles and injustices not only way in the past, but still ongoing.  By participating, I hope to help bring more awareness to my local running friends.

AJ: I decided to participate in observing MMIWR this year because I wanted to honor, acknowledge, and bring awareness to the challenges facing Indigenous people through the North American continent. Running is so meaningful and spiritual to me, and to do for a purpose other than purely my own sometimes is important. Like Kate, I hope participating in this experience and talking about it will bring more awareness in our running community.

Lucien: MMIWR is a cause close to home, for me. I have always been drawn to running as an offering and a chance to connect, so I’m very grateful to Native Women Running and other leading Indigenous organizations in offering annual MMIWR runs as a way we, as runners, can help boost awareness and, I hope, spark positive change.

How did you observe MMIWR in your running and/or other practices?

Kate: I have been dealing with a running injury this year, but on one of my trial runs during the MMIWR, I wore red in their honor. In addition,  I reflected on how small my struggle with my running injury is in comparison to the huge injustices the Indigenous population faces constantly.

Lucien: I offered my longest run of the year (so far) for MMIWR observance, wearing red as I ran a large loop around Horsetooth Reservoir and spending time in reflection at the highest points of the run. My shirt drew some curious glances from other trail users, and one longer exchange with someone who was grateful to learn a bit about MMIWR. For the last ten miles, I kept members of my family and community close in my mind, each for one mile, and then I gave the final five miles all for my grandmother’s sister.

AJ: Lucien, I am so grateful that you were able to share with someone while on the run! I hope that’s an experience they will remember and think about on their future runs. This year, I was in northern New Mexico, in the land of the Taos and Picuris Pueblos, Jicarilla Apache, and Ute. I went for a long run through the desert along the Rio Grande Gorge. The scenery was breathtaking and it was a good place for meditation and reflection. I also visited the Taos Pueblo UNESCO World Heritage Site and lit a candle in the San Geronimo Chapel in remembrance. 

What do you wish more community members knew about MMIWR?

AJ: I think that it’s very easy for non-Indigenous folx to think of violence against Indigenous communities as something that has already happened, and not as something that continues to happen today, and not just on reservations. By bringing attention to it, I hope that more people are moved to action.

Lucien: Exactly, AJ! So often, non-Indigenous peoples place Indigenous peoples in the distant past. I’ve had several conversations about MMIWR with folks who seem completely surprised that such violence is happening now and across the nation. These stories are often silenced by governmental bodies and mainstream media. Raising more awareness is a huge first step.

Kate: Agree 100% with both of you! The more we raise awareness not only of past injustices, but also those occurring today, the more we can find ways to limit them. I always find that when I am more mindful of others, I am also more compassionate and I hope that the same will happen for others as they learn.

How will your experience in observing MMIWR influence you moving forward?

AJ: Moving forward, I will continue to reflect on the stewards of the land that I run on, and work to support my local Indigenous community when I have the opportunity. 

Kate: Moving forward, I will continue to be mindful of ALL the people around me, and be respectful and recognize their reality may be very different from my own. I hope to continue to bring awareness of the struggles of the Indigenous population and, most importantly, thoughtfulness to others in my circle.

Lucien: I also hope to keep that thoughtfulness and care that you mention, Kate, close with me moving forward. As a trail runner, I’m often aware that trails are much more–and much less–safe spaces for certain peoples. I’m committed to doing what I can, in my small way, to help build community and space for a safer, more visible future.

To Learn More:

Listen & Watch: 2023 National Week of Action for MMIW – National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center

Watch: To The Indigenous Woman Long Format, Poem by 1491s – Indian Law Resource Center

Read: Missing, Murdered, & Stolen Indigenous Relatives: Ways to Take Action, Be Informed and Support! – Rising Hearts

Follow: Illuminative on Instagram and Native Women Running on Instagram


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