Montana artists respond to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relative crisis

On May 3, the Missoula Art Museum opens a new exhibition devoted to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relative crisis, or MMIR. The exhibition, titled “We Stand With You: Contemporary Artists Honor the Families of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relative Crisis,” is guest curated by Rachel Allen, exhibition special project manager at the Northwest Museum of Art and Culture in Spokane, WA. She grew up in Great Falls, MT, and is familiar with artists and the MMIR issue in Montana.

Following a public call for art, Allen selected works by 11 artists, drawing from all of Montana’s reservations—the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribe, the Blackfeet Reservation, Rocky Boy, Ft. Belknap, Ft. Peck, Northern Cheyenne, and Crow Reservation, as well as the currently unlanded Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians and Tribal people from the state’s urban areas who have a variety of broader Tribal affiliations. Selected artists include Angela Babby, Della BigHair-Stump, Aspen Decker, Monica Gilles-Brings Yellow, Valentina LaPier, Michael Largo, Carrie Moran McCleary, Jennifer Murphy, Linda Pease, Desiree Rowland, and Benjamin West.

The exhibition is highly sensitive, but necessary. Tribal people have disproportionately high rates of assault, rape, abduction, and murder. Indigenous women are four times as likely to go missing, murdered at a rate ten times higher than the national average, and homicide is one of the leading causes of death for young Indigenous women, with sexual assault occurring at a much higher rate and with more serious consequences than any other racial or ethnic group in the United States.

Montana is the epicenter of this national crisis.

The reception on May 3 from 5 to 8 PM coincides with the downtown Missoula First Friday art walk. Allen will provide comments at 6 PM, and several of the artists will be in attendance. In addition, Carissa Heavy Runner, who lost her daughter Mika Westwolf, will attend the reception to advocate for MMIR with her grassroots organization Mika Matters, to educate people, and to share her daughter’s story.

The reception precedes National MMIR Awareness Day on Sunday May 5, birthday of Hanna Harris (Northern Cheyenne), for whom Hanna’s Act was established by the 66th legislature in 2018, authorizing the Department of Justice to assist local law enforcement in missing persons cases. The day became a national observance when President Joe Biden issued an Executive Order to prioritize the crisis of MMIR.

“We Stand With You” is on view at Missoula Art Museum May 3 through Sept. 7, 2024.

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