June 21, 2024


Automotive to Us

Motorcycle tour from Phoenix honors missing, murdered Indigenous women

A group of Native American women kicked off a motorcycle tour carrying four ribbon skirts representing missing and murdered Indigenous women in Phoenix on Thursday afternoon.

Organized by the Medicine Wheel Ride, it’s the start of a journey across the nation over the next year to build awareness and support around unsolved crimes involving kidnapping, sex trafficking, domestic violence and murder of Native women and girls.

Members of the Medicine Wheel Ride and the Phoenix Indian Center gathered at the “No More Stolen Sisters” mural near Roosevelt and First streets, which has become a symbol of the movement.

The Phoenix Indian Center presented the four ribbon skirts and donated 100 bandannas reading “No more stolen relatives” to be passed out at their destination, International Female Ride Day in San Diego on Saturday.

The Diné Urban Voices, a performance group that sings in Navajo, sang a blessing for the group before they took off. 

The group Diné Urban Voices put their hands together to show their No More Stolen Sisters bracelets at the Churchill in Phoenix on April 29, 2021.

Phoenix Indian Center CEO Patti Hibbeler, a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, said the ribbon skirts are in the colors of the four directions, decorated with the beauty of Mother Earth bringing them blessings for their rides. The skirts will be taken on every ride this year and decorated with ribbons adorned with the names of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

“The skirts are really a depiction of women,” said Hibbeler, and a reminder of beauty, humility and connection to Mother Earth.

A traditional ribbon skirt hangs off of a motorcycle at the Churchill in Phoenix on April 29, 2021.

Bikes tie ribbons with names of victims to motorcycles

Medicine Wheel Riders are a grassroots group blending a passion for riding motorcycles with a message of awareness for missing and murdered indigenous women. Members are from all over the country. About six bikers gathered with the crowd near the mural outside the Churchill on Thursday afternoon. 

Red ribbons carrying the names of missing and murdered Indigenous women were tied to each motorcycle.

At the Churchill in Phoenix on April 29, 2021, bikers attach red ribbons to their bikes with the names of Indigenous women who are either missing or have been murdered.

Shelly Denny, the founder of the Medicine Wheel Riders, explained some are personal and others are suggested by people who want to honor a victim.

Lavinia Yonnie tied a ribbon to her motorcycle for Jamie Yazzie, a Navajo woman who went missing in June 2019. Yonnie met the family of Yazzie last year to hear their story.

“They just felt like they were backed into a corner with no answers,”she said.

The Medicine Wheel Ride created T-shirts, raised funds to increase the reward for finding Yazzie and sponsored a billboard with her name on it.

Every ride is emotional and powerful, Yonnie said, and a way to bring hope to families missing loved ones.

A shirt with photos of Jamie Yazzie, an Indigenous woman who went missing in 2019, is laid across Shelly Denny's bike at the Churchill in Phoenix on April 29, 2021.

Rising concern for missing and murdered Indigenous people

Red is the color of the movement because, “you almost can’t ignore it. You can’t not see it,” explained Denny, who is Ojibwe. Some Native Americans also say red is the color the spirit world sees.

The group is also carryinga red Navajo jingle dress. The maker told Denny that Navajo peopleonly wear red during wartime.

“I think that this is a little bit of a war that’s happening with this epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women,” Denny said.

In 2016, there were 5,712 cases reported of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, according to the Urban Indian Health Institute, but only 116 cases were logged in the U.S. Department of Justice database.

Patty Dimitriou holds a bandana to her face that says No More Stolen Relatives at the Churchill in Phoenix on April 29, 2021.

“On top of that … there’s not a coordinated network to help track these women down and solve these problems,” said Patty Dimitriou, a Medicine Wheel Rider.

She explained part of that comes from a question of jurisdiction because of border and sovereignty issues between tribal nations, municipalities or the FBI.

“Whose problem is this? And quite honestly, it’s everyone’s problem,” Dimitriou said.