Meskwaki Settlement, Iowa – Four years ago today, on January 16th, 2015, Tribal member Rita Janelle Papakee was last seen at the Meskwaki Bingo Casino Hotel. She has not been heard from since.
Over the years, extensive searches on the Meskwaki Settlement and in nearby towns failed to turn up any clues to her whereabouts. Her suspicious disappearance caused tribal officials to offer a $25,000 reward but no one came forward with any credible information as to what may have happened to her. Since that fateful day, there has not been a single trace of Rita.
Today, on the 4th anniversary of her disappearance, tribal officials, the Meskwaki Nation Police Department, and her family are asking for renewed help in finding her. The Meskwaki Tribal Council would like to announce that they have approved an increase in the monetary reward for her return and have increased allocations to $50,000 for anyone willing to come forward with new information that leads to finding Rita. They urge the people with that knowledge to speak out.
The family is spearheading a number of new initiatives with the full support of council. The tribe has approved a grid field search training to community members and volunteers. Tentatively scheduled for the first week in May when snow and weather issues have improved, efforts will revolve around a meticulous search of the entire Meskwaki Settlement.
The community as a whole is invested in raising awareness of the issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in Indian Country. “Native American women are victims of violence far greater than any population in the country,” said Tribal Chairman Anthony Waseskuk. “And they are more likely to be assaulted by people who are not Native American.”
According to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center database, even though they only represent 0.8 percent of the U.S. population, Native Americans and Alaska Natives make up 1.8 percent of ongoing missing cases. “It’s tragic,” commented Chairman Waseskuk. “Rita’s disappearance has touched us all, individually and as a community. We are hoping for answers.”
Over the next few months, volunteers are encouraged to help with fundraising efforts and support as we help keep Rita’s memory alive.
One such way is by attending the upcoming Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s March (MMIW) to be held on Thursday, February 14, 2019 in Minneapolis. The event, held by a collaborative of Minneapolis Native organizations, seeks to bring awareness to missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, boys, two spirit and transgendered persons by holding an annual community walk on the streets near the Minneapolis American Indian Center each Valentine’s Day. Participants are asked to wear red as a visible sign of support for the MMIW movement.
Community members wishing to support Rita by attending the march are asked to RSVP to Dara Jefferson, R.I.S.E. Victim Advocate, at (641) 484-4444. Jefferson will be coordinating efforts for community members to travel to the event. Anyone wishing to donate gas cards to family members and supporters driving to Minneapolis and people willing to donate red material and/or sew red skirts for the march are asked to contact Jefferson at the number above. In preparation for the march, an Indian taco and bake sale fundraiser will be held on Friday, January 25th from 11 am to 2 pm and sign painting will be held on Monday, February 4th from 5 pm to 8 pm, both at the Meskwaki Tribal Center.
Rita is a daughter, a mother of four, a sister, an aunt, and a friend. She is missed and loved by many people. Rita’s mother, Iris Roberts stated, “There isn’t a single day that goes by that we don’t think about Rita. Her children, brothers and sisters, and extended family grieve every single day and hope for the chance to bring her home.”
If you know something, it is time to come forward and tell someone. It is time to do the right thing. It is time to bring closure to the Papakee and Walker/Roberts families. It is time to bring her home.
Rita Janelle Papakee has been missing since January 16, 2015. She was 41 years old, 5’4” tall, had brown hair, brown eyes, and weighed between 145-170 lbs. when she disappeared. Contact the Meskwaki Nation Police Department with information at (641) 484-4844 or by texting/calling (641) 481-6002.