A crowd of about 100 people braved the cold for a candlelight vigil for a teenage girl whose body was found Monday after being missing since the beginning of the year.

Participants circled around the bobcat statue in the middle of campus wearing red — the color for the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls movement. They held signs to honor the life of 16-year-old Selena Not Afraid.

Not Afraid’s body was found by federal agents less than a mile from the Interstate 90 rest area where she was last seen on Jan. 1, the Associated Press reported. The rest area was between Billings and Hardin. Witnesses said Not Afraid walked off into a nearby field and was not properly dressed for near-freezing temperatures, the AP reported.

At the vigil on Wednesday, attendees fought back tears and shielded their candles from the wind. Speakers said prayers, sang songs, shared their experiences and challenged each other to do more than simply being passionate about the MMIWG movement.

Loren BirdRattler, Katz endowed chair in Native American Studies at MSU, told the crowd that Native American communities need to stop relying on state and federal government to resolve the issue. He said people need to go to their tribal councils and ensure that they are registered with the Department of Justice to be able to prosecute non-Native Americans for crimes against Native American women.

BirdRattler said people could be passionate about the movement, but if that doesn’t stop the physical violence and sexual abuse against Native American women, “then we’re just passionate.” He said it’s up to them “as foot soldiers, as warriors, as women warriors, to take that torch and run with it.”

“Because if we don’t stop it — if we don’t make a stand — then we’re going to continue to gather like this for young people when there’s no reason to do so,” BirdRattler said.

Jill Falcon Mackin, a doctoral candidate in history at MSU, of the Turtle Mountain Ojibwe tribe in North Dakota, said prayers and sang for the crowd. She said Not Afraid is “walking toward that light” and asked the crowd “with your spirits” to “encourage her to keep walking.”

Mackin said Not Afraid was in the process of “becoming an ancestor” — “a woman of strength that we could call upon” — and that Not Afraid is “going to that good place where she’ll be home.”

“We do not call her back. We honor her spirit where she is,” Mackin said.

Holly Old Crow, an MSU senior studying criminology, of the Crow tribe, read a note Not Afraid wrote that has circulated on social media since she went missing.

In the note, Not Afraid listed 10 things about herself, including that she liked reading, horseback riding and baking with her mom. She also described a life of loss — two sisters and an older brother who had died recently — and wrote that she wanted to go to college where her only remaining brother lives.

“As you leave today, remember those things because those are what she of thought of herself,” Old Crow told the crowd.

This story has been updated to reflect that Loren BirdRattler holds the Katz endowed chair in Native American Studies at MSU.

Freddy Monares can be reached at fmonares@dailychronicle.com or at 406-582-2630.

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