Event in Pembroke brings awareness to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women
PEMBROKE — It has been three years since Kendra Breeden, an American Indian woman, was murdered at the age of 26.
The Pembroke woman’s mother, Taylis Rogers Deese, still sheds tears when she speaks about her daughter. But, her voice and the voices of others still alive today are the most powerful tools in getting justice for Breeden and other missing and murdered indigenous women, Deese said.
“We have to step up and be their voice. We have to step up and be the voices of our children or other children we have here raising,” Deese said Wednesday during the second annual Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women event in Pembroke.
Being a voice for the voiceless was the main message of the event, during which more than 50 people marched from Main Street in Pembroke to Milton Hunt Memorial Park. Marchers came from the coast and as far as Charlotte. They carried photos of loved-ones who are victims of murder or are missing.
Like Breeden, a number of relatives of these missing and murdered American Indian women shared their stories.
“I believe that we need to march and make an awareness to our indigenous people that we must stop the murder of our innocent women,” Deese said.
The event was sponsored by James Locklear, editor and publisher of Native Visions Magazine, and Lumbee Tribal Council members Wendy Moore, Marshil Locklear and Richard Jones.
“We’re highlighting this event and there’s nothing political about it. It’s about being a voice for those who have no voice,” Locklear said.
The goal of the event was not only to raise awareness of the murdered and missing American Indian women in Robeson County, but to also bring to light the fact that it’s a national issue, Marshil Locklear said.
“Native Americans across the whole United States, including Canada, us women, we’re at a higher risk of being murdered,” she said. “It’s to bring awareness to communities of what is going on.”
A march three years ago in Raleigh is what brought to light the need for awareness to Marshil.
“Unfortunately, with Native Americans and I’m sure with other populations, it seems like sometimes it’s swept up under the rug and it’s not brought out into the open,” she said.
She believes the event, and future events, will bring awareness and teach women to protect themselves, Marshil said.
“Native women are murdered and missing at a rate 10 times higher than any other ethnic group in the United State today. We are here to be the voices of those who couldn’t be here today,” Moore said.
The march is “not a protest,” she said.
“This is a walk of awareness to bring sight to our plight as indigenous women, and we believe that people are beginning to notice what’s going on,” Moore said.
Moore said her support of the awareness movement surpasses borders.
“I stand for all indigenous women without regard to tribe, state or anything else ‘cause we need to be a voice for our women,” Moore said.
Uplifting women was message from activist Aminah Ghaffar. Ghaffar read a self-authored poem during the awareness event.
“Our women are leaders,” she said in an impassioned plea. “We are a matriarch of society and this is our land. No one will come in here and take away our women anymore. We will stand and fight together.”
“This is an uncomfortable subject, but if we don’t talk about it, it’s going to keep happening,” Ghaffar added.
One way to stop the violence is by holding men accountable, Ghaffar and Marshil said.
“It’s domestic violence,” Marshil said. “We have to teach our young men, our young children, our boys how to treat women to prevent those things.”
The Robeson County Sheriff’s Office has handled 159 homicide cases of American Indian men and women between 2008 and 2020, according to Detective Matt Demery. Of those cases, 17 are still unsolved.
The Sheriff’s Office also has five unsolved cases involving missing American Indian women that are unsolved, Demery said.
“Every lead received by the Sheriff’s Office regarding any unsolved murder or missing person is investigated fully,” the detective said. “Someone holds the key for these cases.”
Robeson County District Attorney Matt Scott told march participants Wednesday to keep in mind these numbers do not reflect the entire county.
“That does not include the stats of the murdered and missing indigenous women from Lumberton Police Department, Pembroke Police Department, St. Pauls, Fairmont, Red Springs and Maxton,” Scott said.
The DA put part of the blame for the unsolved cases on the silence of witnesses.
“I would say the number one reason we cannot solve and prosecute these cases is because people will not talk. People will not communicate. People won’t tell what they know,” Scott said. “I can’t tell you the number of cases my office has to dismiss, and I say dismissed, because we don’t have witnesses to take the stand and testify to the facts of what happened. It’s every week. Every week.”
It will ultimately take courage to come forward, Scott said.
“We can march all day long. If we don’t open our mouth, all you’re doing is taking a walk,” he said.
Taylis Deese pleaded the same message.
“It’s up to us to go before the DA, the detective and give them information because the more we don’t give, the more we’re going to have families like this standing around,” she said. “Let’s make it where there are no more mothers like me begging and pleading for justice for my daughter or justice for your children or sister and brother. We have to take a stand.”
Tomeka Sinclair can be reached at [email protected] or 910-416-5865.