BIG HORN — In light of lives lost and family and friends affected by murdered and missing Indigenous women on reservation land, Big Horn High School senior basketball player James Richards organized a fundraiser and awareness event at Friday’s basketball game.

Richards, who is Oglala Sioux, has experienced and seen other friends, family and tribal members experience the trauma of losing a loved one — in particular, young women — in a nationwide epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women. As a senior, Richards was inspired to head up a project to bring attention to the issue in his current community, where the same fear of becoming a victim or related to a victim may not be as strong.

Several organizations aim to share statistics that barely exist. Native Women’s Wilderness website said the National Crime Information Center recorded 5,712 incidents of missing and murdered Native American women in 2016.

“These numbers speak for themselves, yet it’s surprising to me how few people actually know about these events,” the website reads.

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National Institute of Justice claims 84% of Native women have experienced violence in their lifetime, and out of the more than 5,000 incidents, they claim only 116 were logged into the Department of Justice website. Published in January 2021, the U.S. Department of Justice Journal of Federal Law and Practice published information and resources describing how the federal agency is helping quell the epidemic, hoping for solutions to the continual issues. Former President Donald Trump issued an executive order Nov. 26, 2019, establishing the Presidential Task Force on Missing and Murdered American Indians and Alaska Natives, also known as Operation Lady Justice. 

Knowing the personal impacts of missing friends and family members, Richards wanted to make a difference. At Friday night’s game vs. Wright High School, teams wore masks with a red painted hand over the mouth, known as the symbol representing the MMIW awareness movement gaining traction throughout the nation.

“Native American athletes all over the nation are using their sport to raise awareness of these issues,” Richards’ mother, Chanda Richards, said in an email to The Sheridan Press.

Funds generated as part of the fundraising efforts Friday evening will be given to Lodge Grass, Montana, basketball coach Josh Stewart and the team to support families recently affected by this in their communities. In early 2020, Selena Not Afraid went missing and was found dead on the reservation, having died of hypothermia. Richards coordinated the auctioning off of two Big Horn football helmets and signed basketballs on Facebook to follow the event for one week before it closes. 

Stewart and his team frequently complete community service projects, Chanda Richards said, and will in turn use the funding to serve families within their area recently affected by these tragedies.

To donate, visit the Big Horn Rams Facebook page or contact the school.

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