Roxanne White doesn’t want to tell her story to a reporter. It’s far more important to her that she shares the story of Austin “Frost” Pevo, a man she has never met.
Pevo disappeared in February 2018 in Fort Hall, Idaho. The 23-year-old left a house by foot and hasn’t been seen since. His mother, Susan, is desperate for information, White said.
She asks if the reporter knows any journalists in southeastern Idaho who could help.
“Every news story helps the family know that somebody cares, gives them hope that someone is going to see the article and recognize him,” White said.
Pevo is a member of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe. White is part of a grassroots movement working to bring attention to the fact that American Indians suffer violence at extremely high rates. American Indian women are 10 times more likely to be murdered and four times more likely to be sexually assaulted than the national average, according to a report last year by the U.S. Commision on Civil Rights. In addition, when American Indians go missing or are murdered, their cases often do not receive the same media attention as similar ones involving white people, White said.
“That is our battle. We’re not at a place where when a native girl or woman goes missing we hear about it on the major news channels or metropolitan news outlets,” said White, 46, of Seattle, who will speak March 14 at Lewis-Clark State College.
White was born and raised on the Yakama Indian Reservation and grew up visiting family in Kamiah. She is Yakama, Nez Perce, Nooksack and Gros Ventre. She explains she doesn’t acknowledge the tribal enrollment process.
“It was definitely meant to eventually make us extinct in the United States’ eyes. Once there is no more blood quantum, they can say there is no more. If my grandfather was full blood, his children were three-quarters and theirs were half — you see how it goes. It gets less and less, and that’s exactly what they’re counting on. For me, I don’t let that define who I am. I just define myself. My grandmas and grandpas, mothers and fathers, that’s who we are.”
From her home in Seattle, White fights for American Indian families around the country who are seeking answers or justice for lost relatives. If needed, she’ll help them file a missing person report with local police, she’ll reach out to reporters, make flyers and posters and share information through her Facebook group, Missing & Murdered Indigenous Relatives No Borders. She’s organized vigils and prayer walks. She’s traveled to help in physical searches, always a heart-wrenching experience.
“When somebody you love goes missing, it doesn’t matter what gender or family member, that is when you need advocacy and support. We don’t have any systems like that. This is really grassroots work,” said White, who also works as part of the administrative team of the Innovations Human Trafficking Collaborative in Seattle.
White first learned about the missing and murdered indigenous women’s movement at Standing Rock, where thousands of tribal members and environmentalists protested in 2016 and 2017 against the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota.
She volunteered in the kitchen, “the best seat in the house” to hear and see all who came, she said.
“First nations sisters came and talked about violence against women and the missing and murdered indigenous women’s movement. I had never really heard that term before. When they were talking I realized I had experienced several assaults and survived and witnessed violence against my people and my family,” she said. “I knew what they were talking about.”
The Trump administration approved construction of the pipeline, but protestors vowed to return to their homes and continue to protect and defend the sacred where they live, she said. For her that has meant becoming a warrior to break the silence about inequality and the intergenerational and historical trauma at the root of an epidemic of violence.
“We’ve been fed this idea that the government and the system are here to represent us, but we know by fact, by what we’ve witnessed in our community, that is not true. This is why people have been drawn to this movement, because they know there has been an imbalance, an inequality. We haven’t been given the same representation and justice as white girls, and our men too, our children, it’s our entire community that hasn’t been given the same justice.”
In 2018, White was asked to represent the movement at the Seattle Women’s March. She put a call out to the families of victims. They came, wearing red, a symbol of the movement, and led that year’s march.
“I wanted them to know we see them and who they are and who their loved one is,” she said. “That’s what it’s really supposed to be about.”
Social media has been instrumental in helping spread the word about the movement and the missing.
“I think the greatest thing we could do for this movement is to continue breaking this silence, continue talking to one another, continue supporting each other, continue speaking out against inequality,” she said. “There’s so much involved in this inequality. We have to use our voices. We have to vote. There is a lot of healing behind all this.
“The 1 percent is not as strong as they think they are, and the 99 percent, we have what we need. … Every person could do their part in their way, and we’ll get somewhere. We’re getting somewhere now.”
IF YOU GO
WHO: Roxanne White
WHAT: “The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s Movement”
WHEN: 1:30 to 2:45 p.m. Thursday, March 14
WHERE: Williams Conference Center, Lewis-Clark State College, Lewiston