Pride Center Dedicates Altar in Honor of National Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women

May 16, 2023

By: Reema Haque and Riley Sullivan

Northridge—In honor of National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW), the Pride Center installed an altar in the Sol Center lobby that shed light on women whose stories are in need of resolution.

Picture frames, each one showing an Indigenous woman, lined the alter that was adorned with roses, candles, red handprints and information sheets containing facts and statistics about this underreported category of missing women.

Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Altar

“Because we're both Indigenous ourselves, we know how it feels, we know how underrepresented the community is, we know how invisible it can feel,” said Sonny Keeley, who with Amelia Zapata are student assistants for the Pride Center and organized the exhibit.

Keely said she and Zapata created the display in response to the disproportionate rates of violence, assault, abduction and murder facing Indigenous women and girls. In 2016, only 116 of the 5,712 cases of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women were reported to the US Department of Justice’s federal missing persons database.

With the support of Pride Center Supervisor Whitney Workman, Keely said the purpose behind the exhibit was to bring visibility and awareness about this ongoing issue facing Indigenous women and to give the CSUN community a chance to mourn and reflect. Being Indigenous folks themselves, Keeley said giving access to Indigenous issues and voices is especially important to her and Zapata.

“We really wanted to bring that representation not only for ourselves, but for other Indigenous students around whether they be American Indian, or just Indigenous to Turtle Island.”

Turtle Island is commonly used to reference North America. Los Angeles County and the San Fernando Valley are home to multiple Indigenous tribes. CSUN specifically is located on the territory of Sesevenga, but there are many other tribal lands locally.

Rather than plan the alter themself, Workman gave control of the planning and producing of the altar to Keeley and Zapata.

“I just kind of tried to encourage them to lean into what they know are needs, because they're students, so their experiences matter. And then also identify the gaps and support that we have, because more likely than not, there are gaps,” said Workman. “Amelia and Sonny are really, really passionate about creating spaces for LGBTQIA+, native North Americans and Indigenous folks, particularly…folks who are like native to the land that CSUN resides on.”

While this event was established to honor MMIW, the long-term goal for Keeley and Zapata is to host events that celebrate Indigenous people and the culture. For Zapata, that means incorporating drum circles and holding more spaces for two-spirited individuals. As a senior, Keeley hopes to pass down their knowledge to other Pride Center staff to continue honoring American Indians and Indigenous people.

Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Altar