Oceti Sakowin Camp, Standing Rock1
Our flashlights weave a trembling
net across the prairie, sway for hours like river grass
underwater. She’s four; rumor says, seen last
with two White men. We pass this panicked offering
to one another like sharp crusts of stale bread.
Sometimes, in the dark of a slope, our lights catch
the ghosts of other missing girls, from each nation
whose flags fly above our hand-built homes.
They’re lacing a child’s shoe, or a needle and thread,
finishing a poem, or a tattoo, or an argument, or a college class,
busy with everything uncompleted, these women who have not
been found. We yell her name again, again, again, each syllable
pleating in our mouths like a luminescent shell. The echo
catches in each tipi flap, clutches at each blade
of grass. We snake our small lights between the ribs
of horse trailers, through every ash and cottonwood
copse. Every bed is left empty and rumpled, every
sleeping bag, splayed. Some of us begin to unzip
each tent; and by the bank of the river, some kneel,
shining what beam they can toward the bottom.
1 Thankfully, the young girl in this poem was found safe and the incident was determined to be a misunderstanding of the type that happens at any large event. However, the problem of missing and murdered indigenous women is very real. According to the National Crime and Information Center, in 2016, 125 indigenous women were reported missing in North Dakota alone. The true number is likely much higher. On some reservations, women are ten times as likely to be murdered as the national average. You can learn more at http://www.strongheartshelpline.org and http://www.niwrc.org.