Kola Shippentower, Oregon Ravens team member and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives advocate, poses with her family after the Ravens home game against the Seattle Majestics on May 4, 2024. L to R: Abraham Shippentower, 14, Samuel Shippentower, 7, Kola Shippentower and Tommy Thompson, Jr. All are enrolled members of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. JARRETTEWERK | UNDERSCORE NEWS + REPORT FOR AMERICA PHOTO

Oregon Ravens honor missing and murdered relatives

Ravens player Kola Shippentower, Umatilla, and youth from her nation shared song and dance to honor Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives during a May 4 football game against the Seattle Majestics.

By Nika Bartoo-Smith, Underscore NewsICT
and Jarrette Werk Underscore News + Report for America

MILWAUKIE – In honor of the National Week of Action for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives,  Kola Shippentower, Oregon Ravens running back/linebacker and MMIR activist, called on the youth of her community, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR).

Dressed in red regalia, with red painted handprints covering their mouths, they danced under stadium lights at Milwaukie High School during a game against the Seattle Majestics as rain poured from above like a sign from loved ones lost. 

“Being able to have my tribe come out and put on a show for everybody, but also honoring our loved ones that have gone on, that was what made [the game] even more special,” Shippentower said after the game. 

Before kickoff for the May 4 home game between the Oregon Ravens and the Seattle Majestics, Indigenous community members took to the field for a flag song, a rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and the National Anthem. Ravens team members wore black sleeves adorned with a red handprint, a symbol of the MMIR movement representing all the missing relatives whose voices are not heard.

The crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives

Murder is the third leading cause of death for Native women across the U.S., with rates 10 times the national average for Indigenous women living on reservations, according to a 2018 study by the Urban Indian Health Institute. 

The beginning of May is marked with a week of action to bring awareness to the epidemic of missing and murdered relatives faced by Indigenous communities.

On May 3, President Joe Biden issued a proclamation acknowledging May 5 as a day of awareness. Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek issued a similar proclamation on May 4.

“For far too long, the unsolved deaths and disappearances of Indigenous persons, especially women, have not seen justice,” Gov. Kotek said. “On Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Awareness Day, we recommit ourselves to addressing the root causes and systemic obstacles contributing to this crisis.”

While many Indigenous people have experienced first-hand the traumas of missing or murdered loved ones, it is still an epidemic that much of the country is unaware of due to the lack of coverage in media and data collection, according to the Urban Indian Health Institute. 

Though May 5 is a particularly important day for raising awareness, Shippentower has lost loved ones herself and is an active advocate for MMIR issues year-round. Three years ago, she founded The Wisáwca Project, a consulting business where she trains people in self defense.

“There were a lot of people from the team that had no idea that this is an issue that we’re facing right now,” Shippentower said. “Being able to bring those two components of my life together has been really, really powerful.”

A halftime to remember

After the whistle marking the end of the first half echoed across the field at Milwaukie High School, Oregon Ravens and Seattle Majestics players cleared the field to take a much needed break in the locker room. All the players but one – Shippentower – number 29. She stood on the sidelines as a group of more than 20 Indigenous young people took to the field in a blur of colorful beadwork and powwow regalia. Red handprints covered the mouths of half a dozen dancers.

Youth from the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation Youth Leadership Council organized a dance to two songs, emceed by Umatilla elder Fred Hill Sr., to honor Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives.

During the halftime performance, Shippentower stood on the sidelines, eyes beaming with pride as she watched people from her community dance in honor of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives. Among those dancing were her two sons.

As the dance came to a close, youth surrounded Shippentower. One by one they felt her warm embrace before exiting the field.

The Ravens lost the game 29-8. Yet players from both teams walked off the field with smiles on their faces. Shippentower shared a friendly embrace with Majestics running back Billy Kennedy Jefferson, Lummi Nation.

Rain smeared Shippentower’s black face paint and mingled with the tears dripping down her cheeks as she reflected on loved ones lost.

“In our teachings, rain washes away footsteps,” Shippentower said. “When loved ones pass on and they go on to the next place, their footsteps aren’t here anymore. So now we get to go and move forward in a good way and celebrate them and honor them.”