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Qualla Boundary organizers invite community members to attend 4th annual remembrance march

Lilly Knoepp
In 2022, more than 200 people on the Qualla Boundary marched to raise awareness for murdered and missing Indigenous women.

This week across the country, communities are marking the the National Week of Action for Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women (MMIW).

A 2016 study found four out of five American Indian and Alaska Native women have experienced violence in their lifetime, and the murder rate for women living on reservations in some locations is ten times higher than the national average, according to the CDC.

Loretta Bolden co-founded a walk to remember missing and murdered Indigenous women in Western North Carolina because of her own experiences with domestic violence.

This year marks the 4th annual march organized by members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee.

“I mainly encourage them to come and let’s say their names together,” Bolden said.

Bolden calls on locals to attend the event to raise awareness of those who have been lost – and share the names of relatives to be remembered.

The Qualla Boundary Chapter is part of the MMIW NC Coalition. As of 2022, the Qualla Boundary MMIW committee became an official chapter of MMIW NC Coalition and is now legally a nonprofit entity, according to their Facebook post.

MMIW NC Coalition conducted its own research analyzing the 106 murdered and missing cases in the state over the last 60 years. The organization found 57 percent of those missing were women and girls. From that data, 33 percent were from Robeson County where the Lumbee Tribe  is primarily located, and 14 percent were members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee. The group lists resources on its website and continues to create a statewide database.

Last year, 23 women and girls were named as missing or murdered at the local MMIW march. This year, the group asked the community members to share the names of boys, men or any relatives who need to be added to the list.

Twelve more women will be added to the list in addition to three men, Bolden said. Some of the names are people who were killed in the last year while others are people who are just now being identified.

“There are a lot of names on there that I don’t know, but I plan to get to know,” Bolden said.

Among them is Tina Walkingstick who was killed in Macon County in 2022.

“We made a sign for her out there on the fence. There were 35 women that we have found are known, so there are signs put up for all 35 women, “ Bolden said.

In June 2022, an Otto man, Chris Shields, was charged with kidnapping and later with murder and other charges related to Walkingstick's death. Walkingstick’s identify was released by the Franklin Press. She was an Eastern Band of Cherokee member who attended high school in Jackson.

The MMIW Qualla Boundary chapter, led by two new co-chairs, Elvia Walkingstick and Atsei Cooper, identified a new mission inMarch. The group posted their purpose and goals on Facebook.

One section of the post reads: “It is important to us that our group is inclusive and non-discriminatory. Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Two-Spirit, and Trans relatives are also part of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relative (MMIR) crisis. It is important that we create a welcoming space for all of our relatives and honor them. Some of our 2SLGBTQ relatives are targeted specifically because of their identities, it is important we protect our relatives, educate ourselves to become better allies, and uplift their voices as well. This is an intersectional issue. It is impossible to speak on MMIW without recognizing the challenges our 2SLGBTQ relatives face as well. It is impossible to speak on MMIW without addressing MMIR. The violence we face is intersectional, making it increasingly important that we become educated, aware, and inclusive.”

The remembrance walk and vigil takes place Friday from 3pm to 7:30pm at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. The walk begins at the Museum at 5:30pm.

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.