MESKWAKI SETTLEMENT — Meskwaki authorities have doubled the reward for information on a missing tribal member who disappeared four years ago.
Rita Janelle Papakee was last seen Jan. 16, 2015, at the Meskwaki Bingo Casino Hotel, and searches in the years that followed have come up empty.
On Wednesday, tribal officials announced they’ve raised the reward for information on her whereabouts from $25,000 to $50,000.
The Meskwaki Nation Police Department and Papakee’s family members are asking for renewed help in finding her.
“It’s tragic. Rita’s disappearance has touched us all, individually and as a community. We are hoping for answers,” said Tribal Chairman Anthony Waseskuk.
Papakee, who was 41 at the time of her disappearance, is a mother of four.
“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,” said her mother, Iris Roberts.
The family is also spearheading a number of new initiatives with the full support of the council. The tribe has approved grid field search training for community members and volunteers tentatively scheduled for the first week in May. Organizers said it will be a meticulous search of the entire Meskwaki Settlement.
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Over the next few months, volunteers are encouraged to help with fundraising efforts and support to keep Rita’s memory alive, and organizers are also raising awareness of missing and murdered indigenous women.
“Native American women are victims of violence far greater than any population in the country,” Waseskuk said. “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 represent only .8 percent of the United States population, Native Americans and Alaska Natives are 1.8 percent of ongoing missing cases.
Volunteers will be traveling to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s conference March Feb. 14 in Minneapolis. Participants are asked to wear red as a visible sign of support for the MMIW movement.
Local residents wishing to support Papakee by attending the march are asked to call Dara Jefferson, R.I.S.E. victim advocate, at (641) 484-4444. An Indian taco and bake sale fundraiser to prepare for the march will be Jan. 25 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Meskwaki Tribal Center.
Papakee is described as 5’4” tall with brown hair, brown eyes and weighed between 145-170 lbs.
Anyone with information is asked to contact the Meskwaki Nation Police Department with information at (641) 484-4844.