YAKIMA — A Yakama woman found stabbed to death in a wooded area on the University of Washington campus in June was buried near relatives on the Yakama Reservation on Thursday.
Burial for Mavis “Boots” Kindness Nelson, 56, of Seattle took place at Black Wolf Cemetery outside Goldendale, where her mother, former tribal general council Mavis George “Tamaslut” Kindness, and other relatives are buried.
Attendees were asked to wear red, a color adopted by advocates to raise awareness for the the centuries-long international crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women. Months after Nelson’s murder family members say they are still awaiting answers from authorities.
A mother of three, Nelson was discovered on the afternoon of June 20 in a greenbelt belonging to the university near the Burke-Gilman Trail. She had been reported missing earlier.
Ernestine Morning Owl of Pendleton, Ore. said she had not known her younger sister was missing.
“When I got the call from her oldest son, he said, ‘Auntie, they found mom. She was missing and they found her body,’” Morning Owl said. “I didn’t even know she was missing; from what I understand, for a month and a half or so.
“The last time I talked to her was the third week of April because we were getting ready for our mother’s ceremony, a memorial for her,” she added. “After that I did text her … and asked if our sister (Kelly Kindness)… she is kind of in a bad way. The only communication I had for (Kindness) was through her.”
Morning Owl doesn’t know where their sister is, she said. “She is in the Seattle area, but I wouldn’t begin to know what part of Seattle. I know she hangs out in the bad part.”
Nelson is among dozens of Yakama women and men who have gone missing, have been murdered or have died mysteriously within and beyond the 1.3-million-acre Yakama Reservation in Yakima and Klickitat counties over decades. Most cases are unsolved.
That includes the shooting death in Seattle of another Yakama woman. Sandra Lee Smiscon, 45, died of gunshot wounds in 2003 when a man apparently angered by firecrackers being discharged fired a gun and walked away. She lived in and traveled between Seattle and Wapato.
No arrests have been made the murders of Smiscon or Nelson, according to relatives. Those with any information about either case should call the Seattle Police Department homicide tip line at 206-233-5000.
Morning Owl spoke of her sister Wednesday as she traveled to the funeral home in Wapato to meet with relatives and prepare for her sister’s dressing and services Thursday morning. She said Nelson had a unique laugh, a hard worker and was a kind and generous person.
“She would take anybody in; she was really nice, she was really sweet,” Morning Owl said of Nelson, who lived alone in a studio apartment several blocks from where she was found.
Nelson helped care for their mother when she could and gave relatives a place to stay when they were in Seattle, Morning Owl said. She also provided a place for Roxanne White, a well-known advocate for missing and murdered Indigenous women, people and families, years ago when White needed it, Morning Owl said.
White “knew my sister because my sister gave her a place to stay. … she didn’t have anywhere to go,” Morning Owl said. “… She was that kind of person. She cared.”
When she was contacted after Nelson was found murdered, Morning Owl was on vacation with her family.
“I had to pull myself together. When I got home, my husband helped me get on the horn with the detectives, the coroner,” She said she had not received any updates since from authorities.
“Her older son said they found her car in the Auburn area,” Morning Owl added. “I don’t know what they did with the car. I know they towed it in. (But) I haven’t been told a single thing, anything.”
She is disappointed authorities still haven’t contacted her, she said.
“I am getting hearsay from other people, but why can’t I get it from the detective? I know they (have) an investigation to do; things can’t be put out there,” Morning Owl said. “At least tell me something. … Let the family know, even though it’s an unhappy situation.”
Those who follow Yakama tradition say when a loved one has died their full name shouldn’t be spoken, displayed or have their photographs shared for at least a year after death, or until a memorial takes place. Morning Owl doesn’t mind speaking of her sister and sharing photos “because I want this to be known, all the missing people,” she said.
“Maybe it’s an open door to have this recognized a lot more with all the missing women (and) not only the women but the children and men also. It’s really gone unresolved,” she said.