Remembering and honoring: EBCI walks for missing and murdered relatives

by May 6, 2023NEWS ka-no-he-da0 comments


One Feather Asst. Editor


CHEROKEE, N.C. – Holding signs honoring missing and murdered relatives, members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) held a walk to remember, honor, and pledge action.  Organized by the Qualla Boundary Chapter of the MMIW (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women) N.C. Coalition, the 4th Annual Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives Walk and Vigil was held on the evening of Friday, May 5 in Cherokee, N.C.

Ronda Linda Colindres, the grandmother of Lively Crue Colindres who was murdered in February 2022 at the age of eight-months-old, holds a sign honoring Lively during the 4th Annual Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives Walk and Vigil which was held on the evening of Friday, May 5 in Cherokee, N.C. (SCOTT MCKIE B.P./One Feather photos)

“With all of our collective talents, connections, conversations, and hard work, we were able to create this space and honor our relatives in a good way,” Atsei Cooper, one of the event organizers, said at the conclusion of the walk.  “There is no limit to what we can accomplish when we become organized, commit to community education, work together, and take care of each other. That is gadugi. And, through gadugi, we can restore tohi to our community. This is the way of our ancestors and they are always with us.”

“This year, on the Qualla Boundary, we are honoring all of our missing and murdered Indigenous relatives. In reality, we should not be here. In reality, we should not add more names to our list every year. Since last year, our list of names for our missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls has increased from 31 to 36…To the surviving family members and friends in the audience, we want to be a support for you and help you get the justice you deserve. We are here to uplift your voices and your strength.”


The following EBCI tribal members are on the Qualla Boundary Chapter of the MMIW N.C. Coalition’s list of missing and murdered Indigenous people: Magdalene “Maggie” Calhoun-Bowman, Tamara Susan Seay, Aubry Kina-Marie Littlejohn, Marie Manurva Walkingstick Pheasant, Ora Lea Taylor-Hawkins, Eva Michelle Blythe-Blevins, Cheyenne Toineeta, Danielle Davina Brady-Hicks, Jessica Nicole Calhoun, Ahyoka Calhoun, Megan Leigh Hull, Lively Crue Colindres, Tina Walkingstick, Hester Ruth Reagan, Melissa Dawn Roland-Moore, Matilda Reed, Gina Raquel Younce, Martha “Joyce” Driver-Teesateskie, Dora Owl, Edna Long-Bradley, Edith Emily Saunooke-Clark, Jacqualine Davis, Melinda Catolster, Hermie Elizabeth Sequoyah, Ollie Cucumber-Hornbuckle, Bethna Sue Bradley McCoy, Stacy Bigwitch, Mary Catherine Haymond, Patricia Louise Ander-Mount, Tina Michelle Brown-Young, Benita Jumper-Gregory, Carol Deanah McCoy, Lucy Ann Wildcatt, Rita Ann Mathis, and Lucinda Ann Littlejohn.

Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed commented, “This crisis is rooted in racism, in poverty, and historical trauma, but is also directly related to a tribe’s inability to properly investigate and prosecute these crimes when they’re committed by non-Indians against Indians.”

“Advocates like each and every one of you here today, along with activists from around the country, have been calling for action to address this crisis including better data collection, increased resources for law enforcement, and improved support services for Indigenous women and girls. The fact that Indigenous women are disproportionately affected by violence is a serious human rights issue that needs to be addressed urgently. It is essential that we raise awareness about this epidemic and take action to address the root cause of violence against women. Only then can we work towards a safer and more just society for all.”

It was announced during the event that three names would be added to the list including Ruby Montelongo and the first two men to be added to the list, Robert Clayton Calhoun and Kobe Toineeta.

Lou Montelongo, Ruby’s cousin, spoke during Friday’s event, “My family just got back from California to honor my baby cousin, Ruby Sky Montelongo, who deserved to be here…who deserved to live a beautiful and a long life.”

“This is happening in Native communities that our people are living in. Not all Cherokee people live on the (Qualla) Boundary. So, just being there and seeing it made me realize so much of the violence that we face oftentimes comes from one another because of the pain that we feel and the anger that we feel when, in reality, we’re not mad at each other. We’re just mad at the circumstances of our lives that led us here. It’s unfair and it feels like that.”

She added, “I just want everyone in our community to know that our traditional power, our traditional teachings, ensures our autonomy, ensures our place in this community, and if we’re not going to be respected in that, we have to step into that and get that respect. We’re on that path…This is a different type of pain when it happens to you and when it happens to your family. I don’t want anyone to ever have to go through this.”

Lucille Wolfe and EBCI Beloved Woman Carmaleta Monteith hold a banner for walk.

Marsha Jackson, EBCI Domestic Violence program manager, said, “I hope that this date created for awareness also creates a fire for action – a call for action from our community to not rest. The healing has begun and the answers that we need to move forward are made available. That is a segway for our community to not allow any new cases to ever happen again. It starts by us participating together. It starts by us participating as individuals and us demanding a safe community. It starts as us as a group of community members, then as a group of a tribal nation, then as a group of tribal nations across the world.”

During the event, other family members of missing and murdered relatives spoke.

Myra Calhoun said tearfully, “I’m raising my three grandchildren. They lost their mother back in 2021.  This was an unnecessary act. It shouldn’t have ever happened. No Indian lady should be murdered like my daughter was. There should be nobody…nothing like that should ever have to happen. No children should have to grow up without a mother like my three are.”

Dawneena West said, “There are multiple names on that list…just names now. They’re not here to love their babies. They’re not here to love their families and be loved by their families.”

“This should not happen. I, as an Indigenous woman, should not be 10 times more likely than any other racial group to have violence pressed upon my life.”

Ronda Linda Colindres is the grandmother of Lively Crue Colindres, who was murdered in February 2022 at the age of eight-months-old.  “I never dreamed this would happen to me, so I know how you feel who have lost somebody. We’re not looking for sympathy, but we are seeking justice. Until she gets justice, that’s when she can rest in peace.”

Shennelle Feather, one of the event organizers, challenged everyone to “stop hurting each other”.

“We don’t have to resolve anything through violence. I want to challenge our men. This is for you. You don’t have to hit. You don’t have to abuse. We don’t have to solve those things that way anymore. It’s not masculine to do those things. So, the next time you feel like raising your hand or your fist or whatever, think about that. Think about that challenge…and really take that into consideration. Let’s not harm our relatives anymore. Let’s not harm each other anymore. That’s the challenge.”

Following words by the various community members, John Grant Jr. sang an honor song for all of the missing and murdered relatives of the EBCI and Indian Country as a whole.

The event concluded with Yellowhill Rep. T.W. Saunooke doing a war call used at the beginning of stickball games.  “It’s a call to unify our community,” he said prior to giving the call, “a call to unify our Cherokee people, our Indigenous nations, and the nation as a whole.”