MISSOULA — On Friday night at a crosstown girls basketball game between Missoula Big Sky and Missoula Sentinel, the loudest voices heard did not belong to anyone in the crowd.
Supporting Selena Not Afraid, a 16-year old Crow girl who was found dead near an I-90 rest stop between Billings and Hardin on Monday, four Missoula-area members of the Crow Tribe spoke ahead of the game.
Lynell Shepherd and Kellie Old Elk, both University of Montana students, as well as Sentinel junior Aaliyah Biglake and Big Sky junior Sienna Hill recited a note Not Afraid had written about 10 things about herself.
It was a deeply powerful moment, followed by a minute of silence in her memory.
“We as Native women should not be scared to go outside or go to class or do anything without the fear of being taken,” Shepherd said to 406mtsports.com.
Big Lake added: “We shouldn’t even be walking in fear to begin with. It’s sad.”
Sentinel won the game 58-19 and both teams wore red warm-ups with “#JusticeForSelena” imprinted on the back. Many in the Crow community believe there was foul play involved in Not Afraid’s disappearance and have asked the Montana attorney general’s office to investigate further in a statement released on Thursday.
Big Horn County said foul play was not suspected at this time, according to a press release from the Sheriff’s Department.
Last year 5,590 Indigenous women were reported missing, according to the FBI’s National Crimes Information Center. In Montana, Native American citizens account for 6.7% of the population, but made up 26% of the missing persons reports from 2016-18, according to a February 2019 report by the Billings Gazette.
Nearly 300 Native women and girls are currently missing in Montana alone. Homicide is the third leading cause of death among American Indian and Alaskan Native women and girls 10 to 24 years of age and the fifth leading cause of death among American indigenous women age 25-35.
“In our community, some of our kids weren’t quite aware of the (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women movement) and they didn’t realize what a big deal it is and how many people are missing,” Missoula Sentinel head coach Karen Deden said. “So, this is an opportunity for us to not only educate our community, but to educate our team, our females who are our future.”
Biglake is a junior varsity player for Deden and had mentioned to teammates during the 20-day search for Not Afraid that they were friends. The tragedy struck very close to home for many in and around the Missoula area.
Shepherd and Old Elk are both Missoula Big Sky alums while Hill currently plays for the Eagles.
In just a single day, the four women put together the shirts and worked out details with both the Big Sky and Sentinel administrations to speak ahead of the game. The Missoula Urban Indian Health Center donated the shirts and Universal Athletic imprinted them with "#JusticeForSelena" for free.
Again, all in just a single day.
“We feel like it’s very important because we are in the city and a lot of people do know about it, but there’s also a lot of people that don’t know about it,” Shepherd said. “That’s why we want to be able to bring awareness to the people not only who we go to school with, but people in the community.”
Lexi Deden led Sentinel with 16 points in the game, while Brooke Stayner added on 12 for the Spartans. Erin Murphy scored 10 points to lead Big Sky.
The game, though, was secondary to what Shepherd, Old Elk, Biglake and Hill stood up and spoke for prior to the game.
With a red handprint across the group’s faces, the voices of so many missing and murdered women were heard in a Missoula gymnasium on Friday night.
“So the red hand on the face, it symbolizes spirits only see red, so now that she’s passed, she’s a spirit, you know? She’s sees us, we’re her voice now,” Old Elk said.
Cutting in, Shepherd added, “And the hand over the mouth is showing us you try to silence our voices, but we’re here to speak out against it.”