Over 1,000 attend Not Afraid funeral

Rusty Lafrance And Luella N. Brien — Yellowstone Newspapers
Tuesday, January 28, 2020
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Yellowstone Newspapers photo by Luella N. Brien

Members of the Lakota Runners from Pine Ridge, S.D., exit the funeral for Selena Not Afraid. The runners ran from Broadus to Hardin to honor Not Afraid. The Sacred Hoop Runners joined in Lame Deer and the Gas Cap Runagades joined in Crow Agency.

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HARDIN — Over 1,000 people from across the country came together to celebrate the life and mourn the death of 16-year-old Selena Not Afraid.

The Hardin teen’s body was discovered on Jan. 20 by National Park Service trackers working in conjunction with the Big Horn County Sheriff’s Office.

Not Afraid’s story resonated throughout the nation, drawing attention from communities both Native and non-Native as far as Paris.

Channis Whiteman gave the eulogy during the hourslong service. He started off with a humorous take on Not Afraid’s family tree. The tone in the gymnasium was noticeably lightened, but the tears continued to roll down the faces of family, friends and classmates of the teen.

“Selena was only 16 years old, life had just started,” Whiteman said while holding back tears. “Young, beautiful, full of life. These were the best years of her life and she was enjoying it to the fullest.

“People describe her kind smile that would light up a room. My little jokester, very humble, she was very strong … Like a breath of fresh air.”

Whiteman, who lost a cousin in a car accident when he was in high school, related his grief directly to the teens in the gym.

“It’s hard on us,” he said. “But now all you students that are here, you have counselors. If you’re hurting, don’t be afraid to go over there to ask for help and see what they can do for you, because it will help make that hurt go away.”

Whiteman, who is related to both of Not Afraid’s parents expressed his condolences to Not Afraid’s family, especially her only surviving sibling, R.J., and mother, Jackie. Not Afraid lost three siblings over the course of four years.

“Right now I feel for Jackie, all the Not Afraids, all the family, my little grandson here, my nephew R.J.,” Whiteman said. “Jackie went through a hard life, I don’t know but Akbaatatdía has a reason we don’t know.”

As Whiteman continued his eulogy, he offered the crowd some advice on how to cope with their grief.

“It hurts really bad, the hurt is always there,” he said. “We try to hide it, but somehow we got to let it out. Go out in the hills by yourself and cry until you can’t cry anymore. Because crying really helps.”

The death of Not Afraid brought together many different kinds of people, creating a strong momentum for the murdered and missing Indigenous People’s movement.

“She changed lives,” Whiteman said. “She will continue to change other lives as painful as her exit is, she will continue to impact other lives for a very long time.”

Not Afraid’s body was taken to Fairview Cemetery in Hardin on a horse-drawn wagon, her favorite horse, Wart, followed behind, riderless.

Members of her favorite Indian Relay team, who she hoped to compete with, followed close behind.

Close to 75 horses and riders joined the procession, followed then by a line of cars over 4 miles long that stretched nonstop from the cemetery to the high school.

Candlelight vigils in her memory were held from Missoula to Chinle, Arizona. A hockey teams as far north as the Kainai Blackfoot Reserve in Alberta, Canada wore a red-painted hand across their faces as they played. More are scheduled for Lewistown and Hamilton later this week.