Back in October, I was working on a production crew for a TV movie called Badwater, about a young Native American girl who had been raped and murdered. During the filming of a protest scene, I met Michela Fay Alire (Ute Mountain Tribe), who was working as an extra and came dressed in a colorful ribbon skirt — a traditional symbol of strength and resilience worn by Native women throughout North America. 

I was so struck by the design that I asked to photograph her and several friends — members of her all-female Native military veterans group – near Ute Mountain Casino, in Chimney Rock, Colorado. That session inspired me, and I began traveling widely, photographing women on different tribal lands. Many of the photos were related to tragedies involving missing and murdered Native women in or around the Navajo Nation.

There is no reliable database that tracks how many Indigenous women go missing or are killed each year. But a 2016 National Institute of Justice report found that four in five Indigenous women will experience violence in their lifetimes. 

Over and over, as I shot these photos, I found myself drawn to the color red, the official color of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women awareness campaign. According to some tribes, red is the only color the spirits see. By wearing red, it is our collective hope that we can call back the missing spirits of our Indigenous sisters and daughters and lay them to rest.

These photos have been collected for Native American Heritage Month. 

Photos by Curtis Ray Benally

Curtis Ray Benally is a fine artist, actor and photographer and an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation. He has provided photos to the Farmington Daily Times, Navajo Times, Albuquerque Journal and Santa...