Motorcycle rally in Durango honors missing and murdered Indigenous relatives
Motorcycle rallies are a bacchanal of races, rock bands, and appreciation for chrome and souped-up vehicles. On a Sunday in early September, the partying paused as 100 riders gathered to honor missing and murdered indigenous relatives in a motorcycle ride from Durango to Ignacio.
Southern Ute elder Hanley Frost spoke to the riders before offering a prayer.
“We have the highest rate of fatality of native women,” Frost said. “Nothing is done. They push it aside. We have families, you might have a sister, a brother, uncle, or dad, or someone in your family who was murdered that was never solved. I have a brother that was like that—just pushed aside. They labeled him as a drunk.”
Many of the riders who gathered at the Durango Harley-Davidson that morning knew someone who was missing or had been murdered.
“What got me started was my aunt Bernie Frost. For 20 years, she didn't receive her full justice,” said organizer Daisy Bluestar.
“I have a niece that went missing three years back. They never found her,” said Navajo elder Vernon Holly.
“I’m here on this ride to represent my uncle, Todd Blancher, who went missing back on August 30th, 2006,” said Manuel Leto.
Many of the riders wore red, the color of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives movement. They rode two and three abreast on the highway, revving their engines and stopping traffic en route to Ignacio. Along the road, more red dresses and red shirts hung on posts as a symbol of the missing and the murdered.
Vernon Holly said a motorcycle ride to Ignacio offered time to reflect on missing relatives and the meaning of motorcycles for Native Americans.
“I felt a spirit that followed us all carried us to this place. Our people have always rode horses. So the motorcycle’s like our horse, too. That's our iron horse,” said Holly.
Kristen Velasquez-Howe volunteers with Native Love, the group that organized the event.
“The whole point of being on the bike is that it's such a euphoric feeling that it's amazing. It's like medicine. You realize how many people are affected by this. The system is not helping us. That's the sad part. That's why we have to come together as a community and fight together,” said Velasquez-Howe.
The rally continued at the Southern Ute Cultural Center in Ignacio. Following speeches, more drum groups singing, and a documentary film, riders mounted their bikes and rode together for a loop through Vallecito, then back to Durango.
This story is part of Voices From the Edge of the Colorado Plateau, a reporting collaboration between KSUT Public Radio and KSJD Community Radio. It seeks to cover underrepresented communities in the Four Corners.
The multi-year project covers Native, Indigenous, Latino/Latina, and other communities across southwest Colorado.