VERNAL, Utah (ABC4 News) – The Uintah High Football team will be wearing masks meant to raise awareness for missing and murdered indigenous women during their game on Friday night.
The campaign is personal for two Uintah players Cebron Mountain Lion and Nate Serawop whose aunt, Akosita “Sita” Kaufusi, had been found shot to death near the Great Saltair in Salt Lake County.
“This loss broke the hearts of all their family members and the friends of Sita,” said Cebron’s mom, Mikki Su Mountain Lion. “The family wants to bring awareness of these Stolen Sisters to Uintah High School, to honor the women who have lost their lives throughout the decades.”
Nate’s mom, Fololina Tauaalo, contacted Uintah High football coach Justin DeCol and asked if it would be possible for the team to wear masks with an MMIW design, who along with the Uintah High administrators, approved the request.
“It’s a big thing for our family,” Tauaalo said. “We never expected to lose a close relative like this.”
In 2016, the National Crime Information Center reported 5,712 cases of missing American Indian and Alaska Native women in the U.S. The U.S. Justice Department has found that American Indian women are murdered at 10 times the national average.
Currently, the Ute Indian Tribe has 34 known cases of MMIW dating back to the 1950s, according to Mikki Su Mountain Lion.
“Many native families are personally affected by these tragedies,” she said. “Many have at least one relative or friend that became a Stolen Sister.”
DeCol said the request by Nate’s mom was an easy one to grant.
“The chance to support the MMIW campaign is a unique opportunity for our team,” the first-year head coach said. “Both Nate and Cebron are very dear to their teammates and to our coaching staff.”
DeCol mentioned the first of the football program’s four core values is respect for women.
“We want our players to grow up to be great community leaders, husbands, and fathers,” he said. “It’s our belief that respect for women is vital to this goal, and we are grateful as a program for a chance to bring greater awareness to the challenges facing indigenous women in our area.”
No arrests have been made in the death of Akosita Kaufusi. Anyone with information about the case should call the Unified Police Department of Greater Salt Lake at 801-743-7000.
For more information about the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women campaign, visit www.mmiwusa.org.
The Uintah Utes will wear their MMIW masks during a special Friday Night Lights event on Oct. 30, at Coach Belcher Stadium in Vernal. The community is invited to come help Uintah High celebrate its football seniors and close out the 2020 season.