Omaha's Invisible No More rally draws attention to missing indigenous women

OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - It's a new trend to move away from honoring Christopher Columbus.

Right here in Downtown Omaha, a group is drawing attention to the missing and murdered indigenous women in our state.

33 Native American women are currently listed as missing in Nebraska, that's the seventh-highest number of missing indigenous women in the United States, according to Urban Indian Health Institute.

24 of those cases are right here in Omaha.

Rachael Parker's sister-in-law, Rita Janelle Papakee, has been missing since January of 2015.

For nearly five years, Parker and her family have been searching for Rita with no answers.

"She was the best aunti, the best momma, the best daughter," Parker said. "Her laugh was infectious."

Rita's mother attends marches and rally's throughout the Midwest to keep her daughter's name alive.

"Just not knowing what happened to her is what's so very hard for me," Parker said.

She tells 6 News Rita's spirit is not at peace because her body has not been laid to rest.

The Meskwaki police department is asking if anyone knows anything about what happened to Rita to call them at (641)484-4844.

This is not just an issue for our state. In 2016, 5,712 cases of missing or murdered indigenous women were reported. Only 116 were logged by the DOJ.

But there is work happening right now to change that. Senator Tom Brewer is Native American, he wrote LB 154 which aims to improve the reporting and investigating of these missing women. The bill was signed by the governor on March 7, 2019.

"We're still in the process of collecting and fully understanding the data that we have," Senator Brewer said. "But I would think probably in the next few months we'll be able to sit down and really get some value back from that legislation."

One of the organizers of today's Invisible No More march, Michelle Walker, thinks the bill is an important first step, but the next one needs to bring in the indigenous people themselves.

"You know there's a lot of mistrust with the U.S. government and the tribes," Walker said. "The tribal people. So...to get someone that's trained in this to go in there and talk to people and collect that data. I think that's the best route."

The Nebraska State Patrol is working with the Commission of Indian Affairs to collect data. On June 1, 2020, they'll take what they learned to the legislative council to come up with a better way to report and investigate these missing and murdered women.