Convinced that their beloved family member, Hanna Harris, was murdered last summer, Harris’ relatives spoke of her life and death during Billings’ first observance Friday of the Global Day for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.
The single mother of a then-10-month-old boy named Jeremiah, Harris, 21, was found dead in July 2013 near the Lame Deer rodeo grounds. The FBI and Bureau of Indian Affairs, the agencies involved in the case, said the investigation is ongoing, but haven’t released a cause of death. Nor have police said the death is considered suspicious.
An extended story on the circumstances surrounding Harris’ death and what her life meant to the people who loved her will be published in The Billings Gazette on Sunday.
Lauren Chief Elk organized Friday’s observance that was held at the Montana State University Billings Women’s Center. She is co-founder of the Save Wiyabi Project. Wiyabi means “women” in the Assiniboine language.
Remembering missing and murdered indigenous women “is an important day in Canada,” she said, but is just now beginning to be observed in select North American communities outside Canada.
“This is a problem that’s not in the media and not being investigated by law enforcement, because nobody cares about their lives,” she said. “They’re treated like dispensable humans, especially if these women were homeless or sex workers or doing drugs.”
She said she’s “very proud of my fellow rabble-rousers” for organizing observances in San Francisco and Colorado and at the Rosebud and Pine Ridge Indian reservations, where the observance was worked into school curriculum.
She told the 20 or so people gathered at MSUB that it’s “very important to center Hanna Harris at the middle of this.”
Malinda Harris Limberhand, Harris’ mother, told the group she wants justice for her daughter. “I don’t know if people think differently because it happened on a reservation,” she said. “I know a lot of people have been praying for me and my family, and those help, but we are doing this all on our own.”
Wolf Mountain Search and Rescue is hosting a snowmobile poker run on March 1. Most of the money raised will go into a reward fund that the family hopes will bring the investigation to a close by identifying the murderer.
Rose Harris, Hanna’s sister, was also present Friday, as was Hanna’s son, Jeremiah, now 18 months.
“This boy will never know what his mother was like,” she said. “He sees us cry all the time, and he looks at his mother’s picture and gives her kisses. We are not going to back down. All she has is her family.”
“We are trying to keep Hanna in the forefront, and not to let her flame dwindle,” said Misty Pipe, a family friend. “There’s somebody out there who knows something, and that somebody is just a phone call away.”
The family unfurled banners that it plans to use during upcoming events, including the March 1 fundraiser and an April powwow. One banner, featuring a photo of Hanna, is called “Justice for Hanna, Justice for All.” The “21 Feathers” at the center of the banner refers to 21 Northern Cheyenne people who have been murdered – some of the murders solved, but others not.
“Nobody,” Rose Harris said, “should have to go through what our family has gone through.”