ASHLAND — One Ashland high school graduate has made it her mission to help her community by bringing awareness to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous People’s movement. Her efforts have earned her a scholarship from the National Honor Society.
Alyssa Speelman recently graduated from St. Labre Indian Catholic High School. She was the captain of her volleyball team and this year’s salutatorian.
“I grew up on the reservation my entire life, so I know all the different traditions,” Speelman said Tuesday.
Speelman, a Northern Cheyenne tribal member and Lame Deer resident, just won a nearly $11,000 National Honor Society scholarship for her work with the movement, also known as Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.
“A lot of us have personal experiences with MMIW. For me, my best friend was Henny Scott, and she was found in December of 2018 and there still hasn’t been justice served for her,” Speelman said.
Scott was missing for three weeks before her body was found Dec. 28, 2018, about 200 yards from a residence in the Muddy Creek area near Lame Deer. An autopsy determined she died of hypothermia, and alcohol played a role. The case made national headlines, and her family questioned what happened in those three weeks where she was missing, and why it took authorities so long to find her body.
The incident, along with other tragedies involving young Indigenous women, inspired Speelman and her classmates to produce a T-shirt to bring awareness to the MMIW epidemic through their school’s student-run organization, Brave Ink. Another student, Chitat Killsback, designed the logos on the shirt.
“For every shirt that is sold, $4 goes to the MMIW foundation for victims and families,” Speelman said.
The teen hopes these shirts can raise awareness of MMIW far beyond Montana.
“For people in other places that don’t understand this, and we try to educate them just in the fact that this stuff is real,” said Speelman.
The 18-year-old was chosen out of 10,000 applicants for the scholarship, and she brought her message to Washington, D.C.
“It was very fun just being able to share my experiences with people that don’t get to interact with somebody like me,” Speelman said.
Speelman’s impressive resume doesn’t end there.
“During COVID, me and my family, we made casket covers for a lot of the people in our community,” said Speelman.
Speelman and her family started making those covers after the deaths of her sister and aunts.
“It was really hard for us as a family 'cuz yes, it was part of the healing process, but it took so much out of us because we tried so hard to make it unique to that person,” said Speelman.
Speelman said she plans to use the scholarship money to attend Chief Dull Knife Community College in Lame Deer, then transfer to either Montana State University-Billings or Montana State University in Bozeman.
Speelman is giving a voice to those who don’t have one as she spreads awareness about so many who have gone missing.
“Now that it’s actually getting out there, I feel that people are starting to understand that this is something that is huge and needs to be talked about, but it should have started a lot longer, a lot longer ago,” said Speelman.