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Connecticut honors Missing and Murdered Indigenous People, Red Dress Day

Michelle Piper Michell, chairwoman of the Golden Hill Paugussett Indian Nation flanked by CT senator Catherine Osten left) and Lieutenant governor Susan Bysiewicz speaks during the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Red Dress Day Ceremony. Red Dress Day honors the spirits of missing and murdered indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people.
Maricarmen Cajahuaringa
Connecticut Public
Latoya Cluff, vice chairwoman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council — flanked by Connecticut State Sen. Catherine Osten, left, and Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz — speaks during the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Red Dress Day Ceremony at the State Capitol in Hartford.

Tribal leaders, legislators and community members gathered to pay tribute at the state Capitol to advocate for justice as part of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Day (MMIP), also known as Red Dress Day, on Monday.

At a press conference, nearby trees were adorned with red dresses ranging from children's to woman-sized, symbolizing missing and murdered Indigenous individuals.

State Sen. Mae Flexer said Indigenous people need a voice to address the shockingly high rates of rape and homicide plaguing their communities.

“The red dresses behind me are nothing to celebrate. They represent the hundreds of Native American women who are murdered or go missing every year in the U.S.,” Flexer said. “These dresses represent the blood they have spilled.”

Homicide is the third highest cause of death for Native women between the ages of 10 and 24 in North America, according to State Sen. Eric Berthel.

“Native women are victims of murder more than ten times the national average,” Berthel said.

Michelle Piper Mitchell, chairwoman of the Golden Hill Paugussett Indian Nation, expressed gratitude for the state's acknowledgment of the disparities and injustices facing her community through initiatives like Monday's event.

“It's not just our women and our young girls going missing, murdered, or sexually assaulted — it's also our young boys," she said. "Hopefully, in the future, we can bring safety and awareness to our families."

Among the tribal nations that participated in the event were the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and the Mohegan Tribe of Connecticut.

Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz said Connecticut stands in solidarity with Indigenous communities and is committed to advocating for legal reforms and systemic changes to enhance protections for Indigenous people.

Organizers shared that Attorney General Merrick Garland also recognized Red Dress day and made a commitment to investigating cases involving Indigenous people.

"We need to have Indigenous women as state legislatures to hear their voices,” Flexer said. “And I'm so proud to be here with you all today to commemorate this day.”

Correction: An earlier version of a photo caption with this story incorrectly identified the person speaking at the microphone. It is Latoya Cluff, vice chairwoman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council.

Maricarmen Cajahuaringa is a journalist with extensive experience in Latino communities' politics, social issues, and culture. She founded Boceto Media, a digital Spanish-language newspaper based in Connecticut. Maricarmen holds a Bachelor's in Social Work from Springfield College, and a Master's in Journalism and Media Production from Sacred Heart University. As a reporter for Connecticut Public, she is dedicated to delivering accurate and informative coverage of the Hispanic/Latino population in the region. Maricarmen is an experienced and passionate journalist who strives to bring a voice to the stories of her community.