IGNACIO – When Sky Hawk Nation Drum Group drummer Paige Burgess began beating the ceremonial drum at the SunUte Community Center on Saturday in Ignacio, every hit reverberated across the gymnasium to a somber audience.
It was the opening to a profound ceremony honoring the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women movement. Proceeds from the event went to the Voices of Our Sisters, a grassroots organization that is bringing awareness and education through artistic movement. The event was hosted by the Ignacio High School girls basketball team, which was set to square off against Nucla High School.
When Burgess reflected on the performance after, his reaction was pensive, and it reflected the mood of the day.
“Whenever we hear this event of (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women movement) going on, it really does hit home,” Burgess said. “Everyone in Native Country is affected by it. For us to be sitting at this drum, for us as singers, it’s a healing; it’s a medicine. Every time we sing and hit that drum, we think about our sisters, our loved ones, our aunties, our daughters and our mothers. The ones that have gone missing.”
The Bobcats (8-5, 6-0 2A/1A San Juan Basin League) dominated from the opening tip-off and won 62-15, but the game took backstage to the pre-game and halftime ceremonies. In addition to the drum circle, Southern Ute Tribal Councilor Bruce Valdez said a pre-game prayer, and Chairman Christine Sage delivered a thoughtful opening statement. There was traditional grand entry, which featured women and children in traditional regalia.
For fan Tara Vigil, who was wearing a gray Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women T-shirt, she too reflected on what Saturday meant, which she said was important for the community to come out and support the team. She was impressed with how it was high school students that led the way in the movement.
“It means a lot to us because we’re teaching our children to be aware,” Vigil said. “They’re going to be on their own soon, and we can’t watch them 24 hours. We have to teach them the awareness. ... “For the girls basketball team to take the initiative on this means a lot, and I think it’s big for our community moving forward.”
At halftime with the Bobcats leading 38-8, Voices of Our Sisters sang an honor song, as the packed gym turned eastward. After, members of the Fort Lewis College Indigenous Society of Psychologists provided statistics and figures.
Both Sunnie Rose James and Robyn Ludecker of the organization were blown away by what the girls did. Rose James, a junior, is originally from Arizona, while sophomore Ludecker is from Fairbanks, Alaska. They hope to continue spreading awareness on campus and beyond.
“Coming in this morning, it was definitely somber,” Rose James said. “But being that we are part of a bigger picture, and are a part of something that has been historically ignored for a very long time, we are happy to spread awareness to be part of the bigger picture.”
In the second half with a running clock, the Bobcats pulled away from the Mustangs (3-12, 2-5 SJBL) and took home the win. For senior captain Mikayla Howell, the win didn’t matter. What did was her community coming together.
“Today was definitely more about the awareness than the game,” Howell said, who finished with 12 points and was the team’s second-leading scorer. “It was nice to take the win, but it was also really nice to have the whole community here and support the cause.”
The Bobcats plan on continuing the movement by moving posters and collages back to Ignacio High School, where they will remain up for the remainder of the season. Ignacio will play Ridgway (3-5, 2-2 SJBL) at 5:30 p.m. Friday in Ridgway.
For Howell, the drum circle brought everyone together and united the community for an unforgettable afternoon.
“The drum circle was really heartfelt, and anytime you go to pow-wows, there’s a connection that you make with everyone that’s there,” she said. “I think today everyone deep down connected with anything that has happened personally in their lives. Everyone here has kids or grandkids, and it really hit home. It helped us connect even more as a community.”