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Unsolved: Hundreds of Cases of Missing, Murdered Indigenous NC Women

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An Urban Indian Health Institute study found only 116 of more than 5,000 cases of murdered or missing Native women were logged into the U.S. Department of Justice's nationwide database. (Adobe Stock)
An Urban Indian Health Institute study found only 116 of more than 5,000 cases of murdered or missing Native women were logged into the U.S. Department of Justice's nationwide database. (Adobe Stock)
 By Nadia Ramlagan - Producer, Contact
April 22, 2021

RALEIGH, N.C. -- North Carolina families and advocacy groups are rallying virtually to highlight how poor data collection, lack of prosecution and systemic racism have contributed to the neglect of the state's indigenous women.

Crystal Cavalier Keck, founder of the Missing Murdered Indigenous Women Coalition of North Carolina and a member of the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation, said while there's no official database, her organization has documented hundreds of cases of missing or murdered indigenous women throughout the state.

She explained the first 24 hours in these types of cases are critical.

"After time goes on, police often push back and then often say, 'Are you sure they didn't run away, or maybe they just want to be alone,'" Keck observed. "So after maybe a week or two, they will open a missing-persons report."

The event will be live-streamed at mmiwnc.com and on the WomenAdvaNCe Facebook page.

North Carolina has the largest Native American population east of the Mississippi, and there currently are more than 122,000 Native Americans residing in the state, according to U.S. Census data.

Ashley Graham, an Afro-Indigenous woman with Haliwa-Saponi lineage and a college student, believes the issue isn't receiving enough media coverage. She pointed to the case of Faith Hedgepeth, a University of North Carolina student and member of the Haliwa-Saponi tribe found murdered in her apartment in 2012.

"Her killer has not been found," Graham recounted. "And it can happen to any one of us. There are people you go to school with that you may not even know are indigenous."

Loretta Bolden, member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee, said due to poor internet connections in the Qualla Boundary region of the state, she'll be walking with others in her community in solidarity at the same time as the virtual event.

She believes high rates of domestic violence in the region are a contributing factor to what some have called an epidemic.

"We're trying to bring awareness of that, and bring awareness again, keep this in the mind, in front of people right now, because it seems like they lose focus," Bolden asserted.

Last year, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper declared May 5 a Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.

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