Drone Project to Find Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Takes Off | Westword
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Drone Project to Find Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Takes Off

Look for Me is now the official liaison between the 573 federally recognized tribes in the United States and Aquiline Drones.
(From left) Ogalala tribe president Frank D. Starr Comes Out, Look for Me's White Owl and Brandy Martinez, Pine Ridge EMS's Steve Wilson and Warrior EMS director Harold Tiger pose with one of the drones that will be used in searches for missing and murdered indigenous women.
(From left) Ogalala tribe president Frank D. Starr Comes Out, Look for Me's White Owl and Brandy Martinez, Pine Ridge EMS's Steve Wilson and Warrior EMS director Harold Tiger pose with one of the drones that will be used in searches for missing and murdered indigenous women. Courtesy of Look for Me
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Representatives of Look for Me, a Golden-based nonprofit, this week formally presented a plan to use drones to search for missing and murdered indigenous women (MMIW) — and a group of tribal leaders and emergency personnel quickly embraced it.

The result: Look for Me is now the official liaison between the 573 federally recognized tribes in the United States and Aquiline Drones, a Connecticut company that has offered its assistance in addressing this heartbreaking national crisis.

"It was a huge success," says Brandy Martinez, Look for Me's founder and CEO. "All the goals we set out to do were accomplished and beyond. It exceeded my expectations."

First steps are already underway. A raffle at the June 12-13 Regional Tribal Emergency Management Summit in Rapid City, South Dakota, where the presentation took place, resulted in Steve Wilson winning a drone on behalf of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. Four additional drones are en route to Harold Tiger, director of South Dakota's Great Plains emergency management services, for distribution — and Look for Me crisis coordinator White Owl stresses that this initial order is only the beginning.

"There will be more," he says. "And by working with emergency management services rather than tribal councils, we won't have to wait for any votes. We can just do it and bring people the critical supplies they need."

According to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, thousands of Indigenous women and girls have been reported missing over the past decade. But a lack of resources and jurisdictional conflicts between tribal, local, state and federal agencies, among other bureaucratic hurdles, often leads to cases lying dormant for months or even years. As a result, traumatized family members are frequently left to conduct searches on their own, putting their own lives at risk in areas that can be both inhospitable and dangerous.
A photo from this week's drone-proposal presentation.
Courtesy of Look for Me
Martinez and White Owl have worked to help relatives of MMIW by connecting them to canine search teams and other services. But their efforts rose to new heights when they connected with Aquiline Drones.

Several drones provided by the firm had already been distributed before this week's summit. One was sent to the Four Corners area, another was gifted to a representative of Oklahoma's Indian territories, and a third was delivered to an emergency-services group based in Pine Ridge, South Dakota, by Jeremiah Wilber, the Colorado-based CEO of the War Party Movement, which aims to empower abuse survivors through support, education, skills training and direct intervention. The movement's motto: "No more stolen sisters."

The Look for Me reps acknowledge that summit attendees were initially doubtful about Look for Me's pitch. "The first day, nobody really knew who we were," Martinez says. "But by the second day, everybody wanted to hear what we had to say, and they were really receptive. They really want these resources and know that they need them."

She adds: "It was very humbling and powerful to see these different groups come together. The bottom line for everyone is, 'How do we help our people?,' and they're tired of waiting, too. A lot of these guys are volunteers, and most of them are out all the time, either on searches or fighting fires or floods. They're the ones who are doing the work, and we want to support them. We all have the same goals, and in the end, there were no egos involved. We're not used to seeing that kind of unity."

Granted, challenges remain for Look for Me. White Owl is frustrated by what he sees as a lack of support  from governmental agencies and other organizations dedicated to helping find MMIW. But he's also hopeful that grassroots members of tribes, including "people coming from prison, people getting clean from drugs and MMIW survivors," can get a fresh start by earning certifications in drone use.

Martinez agrees: "Moving forward, if we can bring this education to people, then everyone is going to see the value in this whole platform, including the drones. And I'm not talking just about monetary value, but also just the reassurance that someone cares — that someone is looking for their loved ones, that someone is taking the initiative to make this better."

She emphasizes that "we don't want to be complicit. Once we learn what's going on, if we don't do anything about it, we're part of the problem."
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