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Vigil honoring LaFontaine-Greywind calls for support, action

About 150 people gather in University Park Tuesday, Aug. 29, in Grand Forks for a vigil to remember Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind. Eric Hylden / Forum News Service1 / 2
Arlene Feist fans smoke from a braid of burning sage in a smudging ritual during a vigil to remember Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind at University Park Tuesday, Aug. 29, in Grand Forks. Jennifer Russell, right, organized the event. Eric Hylden / Forum News Service2 / 2

GRAND FORKS — Kim Miller and Nina Wichern needed to be there.

Miller, of Arvilla, N.D., and Wichern, Grand Forks, were among the hundreds who searched woods, fields and rivers in North Dakota and Minnesota looking for a trace of Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind last weekend.

The two were on their way to join the search Sunday when they heard the news. Authorities had pulled LaFontaine-Greywind's body from the Red River near Harwood, Minn., the crushing end of a weeklong search for the pregnant 22-year-old whose infant child was found in possession of a woman who along with a Fargo man is now charged with conspiracy to kidnap and murder her.

"I had to go," Miller said.

The two were among more than 100 people who felt they had to attend a candlelight vigil honoring LaFontaine-Greywind in University Park Tuesday night, Aug. 29, in Grand Forks.

Some in attendance said they knew people who knew LaFontaine-Greywind's family. Most, like event organizer Jennifer Russell, had no connection at all. They just had to be there.

"I didn't know her, but I am so touched, and I know you are," Russell told the crowd.

The crowd was eclectic. There were a number of young families, groups of college students, retirees, people on breaks from work.

"It's just a terrible tragedy," said Terry Dachtler. "We just wanted to do what we could."

There was a ceremonial smudging of sage, sweetgrass and cedar, a traditional cleansing performed by Lakota people. The Lord's Prayer was recited.

"She's a mother; she's a woman; she's a Native American; and it's a terrible tragedy that shouldn't happen, especially here in North Dakota," said Judy Lassonde, who passed out candles to the crowd as it grew.

Violence against Native American women occurs at an alarming rate. Some reservations report Native women are murdered at 10 times the national rate. This year, the U.S. Senate declared March 5, 2017, "National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls". Homicide is the third leading cause of death for Native women between the ages of 10 and 24, according to the Center for Disease Control.

LaFontaine-Greywind's death was ruled a homicide Tuesday.

"How many is it going to take for something to get done?" asked Wenona Ramirez, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe who attended the vigil.

Mike Hendrickson, who teaches an ethics class at the University of North Dakota, spoke in the center of the circle Tuesday saying even in LaFontaine-Greywind's death, there is hope.

"I think we're waking up, and people like Savanna are helping us get there," he told the crowd.

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