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Preparing for the 2nd Annual Columbia River Round Dance Honoring MMIW/P

May 1, 2024

By CRITFC Communications

Participants dance during the 2023 Columbia River Round Dance to Honor MMIW/P. Attendees wore red to honor lost Indigenous relatives who have been lost to this crisis.

THE DALLES – The second annual Columbia River Round Dance honoring Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People (MMIW/P) to be held in The Dalles, on Friday, May 3.

The event, coordinated by the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC), shines a spotlight on the stories and testimonies of local Indigenous peoples, raises awareness about the ongoing crisis of MMIW/P, and gives the community the opportunity to participate in a cultural practice promoting unity and healing.

Charlieann Herkshan, Victims Advocate for CRITFC’s Enforcement Department and the lead organizer, emphasized the importance of cultural recognition and healing in addressing these issues.

“Events like the Columbia River Round Dance create space for the healing of our Indigenous people who mourn the loss of their loved ones or feel hopeless about their relatives that are still missing,” said Herkshan.

Round dances are practiced by Native communities across North America. They are social dances that revolve around singers who play hand drums in the middle of the room. They are held as a way for communities to come together and can be held in honor of loved ones or to bring awareness to specific social issues in Indian Country.

Herkshan explained how historical trauma and intergenerational trauma, as well as the intersections of domestic violence and intimate partner violence, have deep roots in the crisis of MMIW/P. “For those that have been directly impacted by the MMIW/P crisis, my hope is that they feel heard, they feel seen, and that they know our prayers as a community are with them.”

“Coming together to honor the missing and murdered Indigenous people from our community is at the heart of this round dance,” said CRITFC executive director Aja DeCoteau. “Standing together, we can also call for justice, healing, and change to create a future where every Indigenous woman, child, and man walks freely, without fear.”

The round dance is a community dance where participants join hands and dance to the beat of the drum, symbolizing unity and support. The power round dances have in bringing healing to Native communities was one of the primary reasons the event was planned as such, rather than as a pow wow or open house event.

Corinne Sams, CRITFC Chair and Board of Trustees member for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, is looking forward to the event and opportunity to bring both Native and non-Native communities together in the Columbia River Gorge.

“The Columbia River Round Dance is a powerful gathering, uniting our relatives to honor Missing and Murdered Indigenous People. It’s a testament to the resilience of our communities, using our traditional ways to heal and raise awareness,” said Sams.

Round dance drummers and singers keep the floor moving during the 2023 Columbia River Round Dance to Honor Missing and Murdered Indigenous People. Photos by Jill-Marie Gavin, CRITFC Communications

As the MMIW/P and Violence Against Women’s Act delegate for the Umatilla Tribe, Sams is hoping more than information can be shared during the event, she also hopes awareness and systemic change can also be results from the evening activities.

“We advocate for equal legal protections across all jurisdictions and systemic change to break free from the cycle of injustice. Let’s come together to dance, pray, and remember those we’ve lost. Our ancestral practices empower us, guiding our path forward. We must address the MMIWP epidemic with urgency and determination, ensuring our people are never forgotten,” said Sams.

Herkshan also stressed the importance of non-Native community members and allies to attend in solidarity. “This isn’t just an Indigenous problem; it’s a systemic problem,” she noted. “We need everyone to stand together to stop violence against Native people.”

Herkshan also hopes to see non-Native attendees participate in the round dance, too. “If this is your first time at a round dance, please join the circle and be sure and listen to the MC when they share the practices and protocols,” said Herkshan. “This is the best way to participate respectfully.”

Building on last year’s dance, organizers have also expanded with more displays and organizations offering informational and trauma-informed resources for the community. “Last year’s event brought us together to heal and connect with our community,” said Herkshan. “This year, we’re building on that foundation with added guest experiences, including a photography booth and a MMIW/P display board.”

The MMIW/P display board will be for families to share pictures of their loved ones who passed on, or to share missing person posters. There will also be paper cut outs of red t-shirts and dresses for families to write their loved ones names on, or write any sentiment they wish, and those will be put up to be displayed.

The Columbia River Round Dance is a public event open to everyone. It will take place at The Dalles Readiness Center at 402 E Scenic Drive. Doors open at 5 p.m. and the community dinner begins at 6:30 p.m. All are invited to join in this important gathering as the community comes together to raise awareness and promote healing.

For more information and updates, visit CRITFC’s website or social media channels.