Things That Matter

A Cheerleading Squad Honored Missing And Murdered Indigenous Women At Their High School—Without Permission

A group of high school cheerleaders rallied against the violence that indigenous women are subject to everyday in the US. They did so without express permission from their high school. But for these students, honoring missing and murdered indigenous women, was more important. 

Daunette Reyome and her cheerleading squad walked onto the basketball court with red handprints painted over their faces and signs showing Daunnette’s late aunt, Ashlea Aldrich. 

The team wanted to call attention to the many missing and murdered indigenous women whose cases are never solved. The red hands painted over their mouths, Daunette said, represented the people who seek to silence them. 

The cheerleaders held this memorial even after the school refused to give them permission.

“[During] half time, we grabbed pictures of [Aldrich] and stood on opposite sides of the gym and formed an ‘A’ in the middle. We had a moment of silence and showed pictures of her off to our fans,” Daunnette told Teen Vogue. “We presented those pictures to her parents, and myself and my teammates gifted them a blanket and a beaded necklace and beaded earrings.”

Daunnette, who is part of the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska told MTV, “My aunt means more to me than a cheer uniform and pom-poms ever will.”

She told MTV News she spoke with school authorities a week prior to the basketball game against Wynot Public School; she said that while they were supportive at first, school officials later changed their minds. “That upset me, but it wasn’t going to stop me,” she said, adding that she and her co-captain “decided we wouldn’t allow anyone to be the hand that silences us, no matter the consequences. You’re going to listen to our message.”

In photos Daunnette posted to Instagram, her cheer squad can be seen standing on the sidelines of the basketball court, red handprints across their mouths. 

At one point, they took to the center of the court to display their posters of Daunnette’s aunt Ashlea Aldrich and her sons.

A graduate of Omaha Nation Public School in Macy, Nebraska, the 29-year-old earned a certification in cosmetology and devoted most of her time to her two sons.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B7KPdzBlwaM/

“She was a laid-back person, always giving, and so forgiving,” her mother, Tillie Aldrich remembered. Yet while Aldrich had her family’s support in raising her boys, her mother also recalled a pattern of domestic violence —and that Ashlea felt like she had no support from law enforcement when trying to protect herself.

According to news website Indianz.com, Aldrich and her family had reported concerns about domestic violence to Ohama Tribal elders before her death.

Ashlea was among the 84 percent of Indigenous women who have been subjected to violence in their lifetimes. “I wrote a letter to the Omaha Tribal Council in 2017 because I was just fed up,” Tillie said. “And in that letter I said my daughter’s going to end up getting hurt and possibly be killed. And that’s exactly what happened.”

Tillie Aldrich, told Teen Vogue that her daughter’s body was found by a creek in the Omaha Reservation in Nebraska, where the family lives.

Her death is still under investigation according to the family, but Tillie Aldrich said she was told police treated the initial scene as a homicide. Omaha Nation Law Enforcement would not comment on any details, nor confirm or deny any investigation.

Daunnette’s memorial was the first one Tillie Aldrich attended, and she said she was touched by the outpouring of love and support.

Tillie hopes that Daunnette’s demonstration not only calls attention to her daughter’s death, but to the many indigenous women who go missing or are murdered.”I live on a reservation, it’s word of mouth. We can report [someone missing or dead] to the authorities,” Tillie Aldrich said. “If we have a non-Native [person] missing in a city 25 miles north of us, it’s all over the news, the newspapers, posters going up. If we have someone missing, one of our Native missing, they try to keep it quiet.”

Native American women are being murdered and sexually assaulted on reservations and nearby towns at higher rates than other American women.

In some U.S. counties composed primarily of Native American lands, murder rates of Native American women are up to 10 times higher than the national average for all races, according to a study for the U.S. Department of Justice by sociologists at the University of Delaware and University of North Carolina, Wilmington.

“The numbers are likely much higher because cases are often under-reported and data isn’t officially collected,” 

The U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat from North Dakota, has introduced legislation to improve how law enforcement keeps track of missing and murdered indigenous women. “(Murder and sexual assault) is a real fear amongst Native American women,” said Lisa Brunner, co-director of Indigenous Women’s Human Rights Collective and professor and cultural coordinator at White Earth Tribal and Community College in Mahnomen, Minnesota.

That’s what Daunnette said she hopes her cheerleading team called attention to.

“I want people to know it’s more than just a red handprint over your face,” Daunnette said. “It’s an actual problem in our community. Our women go missing every day, and a lot go with their cases unsolved and unfound. It is a big problem in Indian Country. It is something I feel like needs to be talked about.”

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