ADDRESSING THE CROWD— Village of Solomon president Kirsten Timbers addresses the crowd at the Nome Rec Center.

Nome marks Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Day

More than 100 children and adults marched from Nome’s City Hall to the Rec Center chanting “No more stolen sisters!” on Sunday, May 5, nationally recognized as an awareness day for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons, or MMIP.
Demonstrators held signs, wore red and marked their faces with red handprints to honor the memory of lost loved ones and advocate for change in the handling of MMIP cases.
The annual event acknowledges a longstanding crisis of disproportionately high rates of missing and murdered persons cases among Indigenous communities across the country, state and Nome region.
 The last report from the Alaska Department of Public Safety found there were 166 reported cases of missing Alaska Native or American Indians from October 2023 to the beginning of January 2024.
Since 2019 Nome has held marches on MMIP day, organized by Deilah Johnson, the environmental coordinator for the Village of Solomon. Johnson had attended an MMIP march in Washington and realized the need for one in Nome.
“We have had a lot of devastating tragedies occur to the people that we see every day here,” she said.
Following the march, participants convened in the Rec Center for a potluck, speeches and the premiere of “One Of Our Own,” a fictional film about the crisis.

Alaska and beyond
Staring off the speeches was Ingrid Goodyear, MMIP coordinator for the Great Plains and Alaska regions, appointed by the U.S. Department of Justice. She has been to Nome in the past for MMIP memorials and noted the growth in turnout this year.
Her talk began with a personal connection to the topic. Growing up in a small community in the Aleutians, Goodyear watched her father come to the aid of her family and neighbors as a leader in the community.
“We’ve been talking about MMIP in my family for as long as I can remember, since I was a little girl,” Goodyear said. “If the lights went out on the runway and you needed a medevac, you called my dad. Somebody went missing and you needed to go search, you call him.”
Now, in her role she aims to build “collaboration, cooperation and communication” across entities in Alaska, forming a network of groups unified to better serve MMIP cases.
Four years ago when she began in this role, one of the first cases that crossed Goodyear’s desk was that of Florence Okpealuk, who went missing from Nome’s West Beach in August 2020. The unsolved case was recently the subject of the true crime podcast “Up and Vanished.”
“It actually took way too much time to get everybody up here,” Goodyear said of Okpealuk’s search. “I have to apologize; it took too much time, and my heart and prayers go out to you. But nobody has forgotten. Everybody is still thinking and looking and aware of the situation.”
Goodyear spoke to the audience about the importance of making connections within a community and having leadership be prepared before anything happens. In a working group with entities across Alaska including the FBI, U.S. Marshals Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Alaska State Troopers, Village Safety Officers, Kawerak, tribal groups and more, Goodyear has helped three sites create tribal community response plans. A step-by-step guide instructs communities on what to do if someone goes missing, detailed response information, as every minute counts.
As the point of contact for many groups in Alaska, Goodyear emphasized her role as a resource to places like Nome.
“You can pick up the phone and call me and I can call the Alaska State Troopers, I can call all those federal partners and we can get people coming to the community. John can say ‘My city needs help right now’ and we can get people here quickly.”
Mayor John Handeland also spoke, announcing the addition of another victim advocate position in the Nome Police Department to work directly with people involved in MMIP cases and help move them through the legal system.
The event had a few last-minute speaker cancelations, including Senator Donny Olson of Golovin, who addressed the crowd in a prerecorded video.
“Individuals and organizations across our state, our neighbors and family members, law enforcement and tribal members, it takes all of us working tirelessly to make sure the names and voices of our missing and murdered loved ones are not forgotten,” Olson said.
Olson discussed the bill he recently sponsored, Senate Bill 151 that passed through the state Senate last week. It seeks to establish an MMIP case Review Commission, mandated cultural training for law enforcement and the creation of two full-time investigator positions in the Department of Public Safety.
Producer and host of the ‘Up and Vanished’ podcast, Payne Lindsey made a virtual appearance.
“We’re still very actively investigating Florence Okpealuk’s disappearance, we’re not done yet and we’re not gonna be done until we find answers,” Payne said to the audience. “This isn’t over yet and it isn’t gonna be over until things change.”

Local awareness
Johnson, the organizer behind Nome’s MMIP marches, expressed gratitude to the attendees for their advocacy.
“You coming here today is just as much advocacy as me putting this event together,” she said to the crowd, “Thank you.”
During the event Johnson debuted her first short film, “One Of Our Own,” at the Rec Center. Every year in preparation for May 5, Johnson contacts leaders from across the country, ranging from the president to local legislators. Frustrated with the lack of response and engagement, Johnson created a script for her film. 
“I’m sure everyone has had that feeling before—really angry—especially at public entities or organizations or people in politics,” Johnson told the crowd. “I know I’m not alone in this.”
The script tells the fictional story of an Indigenous woman’s disappearance in Nome at the hands of a faceless tourist who just arrived in the region. Using local actors and scenery, Johnson and director Joe Yates aim to share an issue that plagues the Nome region with those who couldn’t attend the MMIP event. The film closed with the names and a dedication to the 330 active MMIP cases in Alaska.
The film is available to watch on the Village of Solomon’s website, and Johnson was grateful to see it finally released.
“We want it to go viral,” she said.
This year the MMIP event had a strong focus on progress and change, an important highlight for Johnson.
“We want to make sure that this isn’t just to complain—this is to empower us going forward,” she said. “We want to instigate change and emotion.”

Never forgotten
Florence Okpealuk was present throughout the event. Her memory was honored in pictures, in a poster on the podium and in a moment of silence.
Near the end of the speeches, her sister Blaire Okpealuk told the story of the case. Following her sibling’s disappearance in Nome, a small search party was dispatched, but it took six days before the Nome Police Department and state law enforcement joined the search.
“We believe Flo’s case wasn’t thoroughly or properly investigated,” Okpealuk said.
Printouts of a letter sent May 3 to Nome Police Chief William Crockett from Blair Okpealuk were available on tables at the event. In the letter Okpealuk asked Chief Crockett to hire a private investigator for Florence’s case or close it.
“If you are not able to bring in a lead private investigator or pool together an investigative team dedicated to the cold cases of missing individuals within the Nome area, to include my sister Florence Okpealuk– then to please close case number 20-010717 so that we can take all the information within her cold case and resource crowd funding across the world in order to find closure for my family, for the community, for the audience of that podcast and anyone watching Flo’s case at this point,” Okpealuk wrote.

The Nome Nugget

PO Box 610
Nome, Alaska 99762
USA

Phone: (907) 443-5235
Fax: (907) 443-5112

www.nomenugget.net

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