“We’ve got to do more”: MMIR Walk & Vigil held in Cherokee  

by May 6, 2024NEWS ka-no-he-da0 comments


One Feather Asst. Editor


CHEROKEE, N.C. – “His presence mattered,” said Mary “Missy” Crowe, an elder of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) from Elawodi (Yellowhill).  She was speaking of her relative, Gabriel (Gabe) Thor Crow, a noted Cherokee basket maker who has been missing since early this year.

Lou Montelongo, center, a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians from Elawodi (Yellowhill), speaks during the 5th Annual Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives Walk & Vigil held at the Oconaluftee Island Park in Cherokee, N.C. on the afternoon of Sunday, May 5. She is shown with Atsei Cooper, Qualla Boundary MMIW group and event coordinator, left, and Mary “Missy” Crowe, Lou’s mother, shown holding a poster of their missing relative, Gabe Crow. (SCOTT MCKIE B.P./One Feather photos)

“We’ve got to do more…we’ve got to do more. We have to look at our fair and equal rights and protection for everybody. It starts with our inherent right…no one put us on this land but Creator. And no one should be able to take us off of this land known as the Qualla Boundary.”

She spoke during the 5th Annual Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives Walk & Vigil which was held at the Oconaluftee Island Park in Cherokee, N.C. on the afternoon of Sunday, May 5.  The event was hosted by the Qualla Boundary MMIW group.


Crowe, one of several EBCI community members to speak at the event, further commented, ” We can’t be adding any more names to this list. That’s enough. So, we ask you, please, let’s start really organizing. Come out collectively as relatives, as sisters, as brothers, as friends. The animosity that’s taken control of our community is driving a wedge to our relatives. It needs to stop because 90 percent of it is petty. I hope and pray that we find Gabe.”

Atsei Cooper, a member of the Qualla Boundary MMIW group and a coordinator of Sunday’s event, thanked the crowd who showed their support for the Walk. “This truly has been an act of gadugi. We have worked with so many people in the communities to help make the 35+ honor walk banners…a lot of love went into these.”

She added, “Gadugi is looking out for each other, taking care of each other and we have to be stingy with one another. We have to look out for our relatives who are suffering from domestic violence. We have to look out for our relatives who have been kicked out of their homes, who may be struggling with addiction. We have to keep us safe.”

Ugvwiyuhi (Principal Chief) Michell Hicks told the crowd, “There’s always going to be continued prayers in regards to every one of our families that have been impacted. The trauma that we’ve endured as a tribe, the trauma that many of our families have endured is something that…just continual prayers is where we have to be as a tribe. I know that there’s resources, there’s follow-up, there’s communication, not only with local agents but outside agencies, and those things are extremely, extremely important to make sure that we never forget these individuals.”

While doing the MMIR Walk, Citrus Bigwitch, an EBCI tribal member, holds a photo of her mother, Stacy Ann Bigwitch, who was murdered in 1989.

He put forth the idea of creating a MMIR Memorial for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. “As we come together as a community, it’s time for us to identify a location to memorialize all of the names – all the men, all the women – so that families can have a place of prayer. They can have a place to visit and a place of remembrance.”

Lou Montelongo, an EBCI tribal member from Elawodi, said, “So much of this work that we do for our missing and murdered loved ones is physical, spiritual, and emotional labor. It is work that, once we step into, we must accept that our community will ask us for help. We must acknowledge that while our intentions can be good, we must also make sure our impact is positive as well. And when our impact does not match our intention, we must strive to make that right.”

“This work, at its core, is communal. In order for us to make an impact, we all have to participate in creating a safer environment for all of us.”

She went on to say, “None of us are disposable and we have to start seeing the significance in each other. None of us deserve to live in fear.”

Ahli-sha Stephens, Maggie Jackson, and Sheyahshe Littledave started the “We Are Resilient” podcast a few years ago to raise awareness for the MMIR issue.  Stephens said on Sunday, “We saw a need to tell these stories from an indigenous perspective because these stories aren’t told. We want to bring that to light because this is a silent epidemic here and across the country.”

“On the Qualla Boundary, we are fortunate to have a community that has rallied together to address and combat these injustices. However, keeping this momentum requires our collective commitment, engaging an open dialogue about the challenges facing our people. We can ensure that these issues remain at the forefront.”

Jackson spoke and said, “Today, as we gather to commemorate the National Day of Awareness of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives, it is important to realize the magnitude of this issue. While our podcast is primarily focused on raising awareness regarding missing and murdered indigenous women cases, we recognize that these issues do not only affect women and girls. The MMIP crisis is a national epidemic that can affect any indigenous person.”

Ugvwiyuhi (Principal Chief) Michell Hicks, right, speaks at the start of the event. He is shown with Atsei Cooper, Qualla Boundary MMIW group and event coordinator.

She said that four out of five Native American women have experienced some form of violence in their lifetime.  “The statistics around violence against indigenous women are not just numbers. They represent the lives or the lived experience of our sisters, daughters, and mothers.”

Two days prior to MMIW/MMIR Awareness Day, U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland released a statement on the issue. “There is still so much more to do in the face of persistently high levels of violence that tribal communities have endured for generations, and that women and girls, particularly, have endured.  In carrying out our work, we seek to honor those who are still missing, those who were stolen from their communities, and their loved ones who are left with unimaginable pain.  Tribal communities deserve safety, and they deserve justice.  This day challenges all of us at the Justice Department to double down on our efforts, and to be true partners with tribal communities as we seek to end this crisis.”