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The Cold Case of Rita Janelle Papakee, Meskwaki, (CASE NUMBER: 15-001969)
Rita Janelle Papakee disappeared as she left
the Meskwaki Bingo Casino Hotel near Tama,
Iowa on January 16, 2015. Strangely, the
Meskwaki immediately assumed that she had
left of her own free will, and was "probably" in
either De Moines, or Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It
puzzled me how the tribal police could make
such assumptions before doing what any good
investigator would do: Assume the worst.
In order to contact the tribal police department, calls go through the Tama County Sheriff's Department. I called as soon as I first read the report in the De Moines Register. I offered my volunteer service as an intertribal investigator and profiler of, in order to assist as best I could do with limited resources. To my dismay, one of two things happened. The Sheriff's Department never gave the Meskwaki Police Department my message, or did, and the Tribal Police ignored me. The indifference I found was dismaying. What I found most outrageous part was sent to me when Rita's disappearance became a "cold case", and the sudden "concern" by the tribal chairman, Anthony Waseskuk, the tribal council, and the Meskwaki Tribal Police Department became "real" five years after Rita's disappearance. After all this time, the Meskwaki Chairman, Anthony Waseskuk, issued the following statements:
“It’s tragic. Rita’s disappearance has touched us all, individually and as a community. We are hoping for answers.” Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier article published January 17, 2019.
“Native American women are victims of violence far greater than any population in the country, and they are more likely to be assaulted by people who are not Native American.”
Mr. Waseskuk, too little, too late... Where were you and your police department when Rita was taken?
Rita was 41-years-old when she went missing, and if alive, would be 47. What does this say about how Indigenous peoples, and women and girls in particular, are treated by the "dominant culture?"
F.B.I statistics cavalierly state that while the Indigenous peoples cover a skeletal 1 percent of what is called North America, the number of missing, murdered Indigenous women and girls - compared to the mainstream population of women - is 1.8 percent. My assessment is that this is an underreported statistic, especially since claims were made that "there were no 'actual statistics' for missing Indigenous women in any part of what is called the Americas."
Rita's case is personal to me for several reasons, including horrible living conditions in the Meskwaki settlement (it is not a reservation, but land purchased by the tribe between 1857 and 1866), alleged/reported, but not surprising, corruption within the Meskwaki Tribal Council, the Tribal Police, plus their five year indifference, and the fact that Rita is a Sister who could be a victim of trafficking, or buried in a shallow grave close to where I live. There is not much I know about Rita, but I think it important to try to know as much as we can about this precious Sister, who is a daughter and a mother, as well, whose own mother and children may probably now never see her again.
The monsters that abduct, rape, traffic, and murder our Sisters take no names. The evils incarnate depersonalize their victims; the victims are merely "objects" to be used, exploited, abused, violated, to then be cast away like trash in shallow graves, murky waters, or deserts... to be consumed by the Wildlife, or worn away to nothing by the elements when the monsters are "finished with them."
If I seem angry, it is because I am. I am not alone.
I do not want Rita to disappear from our collective memory, as so many have because of alleged high-risk behaviors/victimology as in the following case:
Depersonalization of our Sisters empower their tormentors... and empowers a system that claims the power to care, or not to care.
I want us to know these Sisters, and to give them the respect and honor denied them by the perpetrators, and a society that simply does not care. No woman, no girl deserves to suffer ignominy because their lives are/were not "perfect." However, the abductions, to the murders of Indigenous women and girls are seldom if ever reported by "mainstream media," or fully investigated by "authorities."
Let us meet our Sister, Rita Janelle Papakee...
Rita was born on June 1, 1973 on the settlement of the Meskwaki Nation in Tama, Iowa. She is the daughter of Iris Parker, and the mother of four beautiful children. She is 5 feet 4 inches tall, around 145 pounds; brown hair, brown eyes.
Sadly, aside from the brief description given by "official sources," there is not much that we know about this beautiful woman, taken by stranger(s) unknown. At this point, I would like to do a profile on Rita Janelle Papakee... and a probable scenario not uncommon upon Indigenous lands.
She is a woman born within a community where struggles were constant, perhaps way above the "mainstream average." She knew poverty, married young, and had children. The father of her children abandoned his family to pursue his own desires; incapable of facing his responsibilities to his children, or to the woman with whom these four children were conceived.
Within the settlement, the only employment which she could find was at the Meskwaki Bingo Casino Hotel. She had to support her children, she worked at the casino, walking to and from work because she could not afford a car a any price (another reason why she could not go out farther, outside the settlement for a decent job). Perhaps the pay at the casino was not too bad, so she worked long hours, six days a week, in order to take care of her family.
On January 16, 2015, Rita worked a double shift. She exited the casino, perhaps surrounded by many non-Indigenous tourists and gamblers. She lit a cigarette, winding down from a long day catering to strangers who would not even remember her name, what she was wearing, how tall she was, the color of her hair, her eyes... with one exception.
Two non-Native strangers approach her in a dark van, perhaps to compliment her, to ask for directions, but she senses something "off" about these men. She attempts to smile, and to be courteous, but her instincts are screaming for her leave! It is too late for Rita as she is suddenly grabbed, and dragged screaming into the back of the dark van with no windows... she is gone. No one heard her scream...
Her mom is at Rita's house, watching the kids. She looks at the clock hanging in the livingroom, notices the time, and wonders where her daughter could be. Rita had promised to call should be have to work a little longer, but hours had passed, and now she was worried.
Iris calles the casino, and they tell her that her daughter had left hours ago. and that no, they didn't see her after she left. The security of the casino knew nothing. The Mother calls the tribal police. With a Mother's intuition, Iris knows that something bad has happened to her daughter.
The tribal police knew that Rita "had a history of running away when she was younger. They assumed, for some reason that Rita might have gone with someone to one city or another, "probably to score" after a long day. They laugh, and tell Rita's Mother to wait 24 hours, and if Rita didn't return home by then, they would "look into it."
Days, weeks, months, and finally years came, and Rita did not come home. To this day, a Mother, and four children, still wait for their daughter, and mother to return. As more time passes, sudden concern arises as the case of Rita's disappearance as Iris Parker demands that something be done to find her daughter. Her children's cries join their Grandmother's, and then a reward of $25,000 was issued for any information that would help "authorities" find Rita. Then the reward was raised to $50,000, and help requested from the Meskwaki Nation for grid searches to be done, but only within the settlement's boundaries. Pray tell, what would they be looking for after five years? Way too late, and way too little.
Adding insult to injury, the now cold case is referred to as, "INCIDENT TYPE: Other adult missing." With this designation, I can hear the cries of missing, exploited, and murdered Indigenous Women and Girls throughout this entire hemisphere; their spirits crying out for justice too long denied them by governments with genocidal policies, and tribal governments with very limited jurisdiction... and even the will... to help our Sisters.
Here are the words of a Rita's Mother, whose heart holds to tenuous hope regarding her daughter's disappearance: “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."
To Rita's Mother I wish to say: As soon as Rita went missing, I called the Meskwaki Tribal Police Department to offer my assistance as an investigator, and profiler. I was ignored. To this day I cry for what could have been done, but was not. I've never met Rita, yet I love her. She is my Sister. I do not know if my "profile of events" is correct, or not. However, this has happened to too many mothers, daughters, sisters through the whole of Turtle Island, with exactly the same modus operandi and signatures (tableaus commonly left by serial killers, but varying according to the perpetrators) My heart is broken.
I can say no more. My sadness and outrage have shattered my heart. While words cannot properly convey, so as an investigator, a profiler, and as a survivor of sexual violence, I will never give up my fight for our Sisters missing, murdered, gone... but never forgotten.