BILLINGS — Every year, hundreds of indigenous people go missing in Montana, and it often goes unnoticed. One Billings group is trying to change that by holding a march through downtown Billings later this month.
For Rose Harris, May 5 carries huge significance. It’s National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls, in honor of her sister’s birthday.
Hanna Harris was murdered in 2013.
“She was murdered here on the Northern Cheyenne reservation,” Harris said.
She spent years fighting to make sure Hanna’s killer was charged in her sister’s death. Hanna’s body was found near the rodeo grounds on the Northern Cheyenne reservation.
Her killer, Eugenia Rowland was sentenced to 22 years in prison, but it wouldn’t have been possible without Rose.
“We got justice because we had to actually go out and do the whole thing itself, instead of the cops doing what they were supposed to do,” Harris said.
Hanna’s story is unfortunately all too familiar, but one local organization, the Zonta Group of Billings, is doing everything in its power to raise awareness.
“The Zonta Club of Billings is an advocacy group to empower women and girls,” said president of the club and Ute tribal member, Suzie DeBar.
The Billings chapter, which has been around since 1950, is shining a spotlight on issues like human trafficking, domestic violence, and missing and murdered indigenous people.
“We need to come to a solution and recognize there are issues with the system and fix those issues, and we can only do it as a community,” said Renee Coppock, recording secretary of the Zonta Club of Billings.
On May 15, they’re co-hosting a MMIP march with the Montana Native Women's Coalition. It will start at the Wise Wonders Museum and end at Skypoint downtown.
“There will be drummers, there will be traditional native dancers. We’ll have a prayer by an elder and then we will have speakers telling what’s happening at different levels of government, what’s happening at the tribes,” Coppock said.
The march is not only educational, but it will incorporate real stories.
“We will hear from people to tell how the issue has impacted their lives,” said Coppock.
Stories that are similar to that of the Harris sisters, where cases often fall through the cracks of the system.
“The families that do get justice, it’s not a lot of justice,” Harris said.