(QUEEN CITY NEWS) – On a Sunday afternoon in the mountains of western North Carolina, a sewing room becomes something else…a discussion space for three women who, over the last several months, have had a lot of conversations. The conversations range from dark subject matter to lighter fare, but always serious.
The conversation is for a podcast called “We Are Resilient”, a true-crime podcast focusing on missing and murdered Indigenous women, also known as MMIW.
The focus of their most recent episode is Pepita Redhair, a member of the Navajo Nation in New Mexico, who has been missing for nearly two years, leaving the family desperate for answers.
“They feel like they haven’t had a lot of support from police or the local government,” said podcast co-host Sheyahshe Littledave. “So, when we see cases like this, we want to do everything we can to highlight them, even though they are not in our reach, in our area, we feel like there’s a responsibility to tell these stories.”
Littledave, Maggie Jackson, and Ahli-sha Stephens all host the podcast and are all members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. After an event on the Cherokee Indian Reservation highlighting local cases last year, they felt more needed to be done.
“It’s epidemic-level problems, and I was like ‘somebody should do something about this’,” said Littledave.
“We literally just sat in this room, and Sheyahshe had her first cases, we kind of winged it from there,” said Jackson.
As of this story, they have released ten episodes, with several more mini-episodes focusing on other cases.
“I don’t think anybody realizes what a significant issue it is because we didn’t realize there were that many,” said Stephens.
The cases on “We are Resilient” involve women whose names aren’t as well-known. In addition to the podcast on Redhair, they have focused episodes on Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, Courtney Holden, Selena Not Afraid, Ella Mae Begay, Rose Downwind, Alyssa McLemore, Tristen Gray, Danielle Brady, Sky Jim, Britney Tiger, Jocelyn Watt, Jade Wagon, Ashley Aldrich, and Misty Upham — all names of women who were brutally murdered, or vanished without a trace, or were found under mysterious circumstances.
The National Congress for American Indians says Indigenous women are ten times more likely to be murdered in some parts of the United States, with a majority of those cases being at the hands of someone who is not Native American.
“50 percent of Native American women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, and it plays a big part in what happens to these women,” said Jackson.
One of the cases they have covered on their podcast involves someone close to one of the hosts. Brittaney Littledave went missing in California in September 2021. She is a member of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma and is Sheyahshe’s cousin.
“I can see her sister, my cousin Summer, doing all the posting and the searching and calling news stations, and she’s pulling out reports and calling investigators,” said Littledave. “I can see how difficult it is to keep your loved one at the forefront of this.”
There has not been much coverage on Brittaney Littledave’s disappearance. She went missing just a week before another high-profile case took shape that grabbed headlines — that of Gabby Petito.
“If we talk about Petito, and the state she went missing, there are 710 Indigenous people there that have received little to no coverage to the extent she did,” said Littledave. “All I can say is that it’s unfair.”
“It did not feel good,” said Jolene Holgate with the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women in an interview conducted late last year with Queen City News sister station KRQE in Albuquerque, New Mexico on the lack of attention on MMIW cases — which, like many minority communities, often do not get much news coverage beyond local organizations.
Holgate said, however, it is more than just the media coverage that is an issue, but also attention from authorities.
“If we saw that same energy, with all of these resources available for one case, I couldn’t imagine how many of our Indigenous women and girls they would find,” said Holgate.
“The lack of resources, the lack of investigations, the jurisdiction restrictions, those all come into play,” said Stephens.
There are efforts to address this federally. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Indigenous person to serve as a White House Cabinet Secretary, announced a “Missing and Murdered” unit within the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Social media is also a valuable tool in getting the word out about these cases, and the “We Are Resilient” podcast is an extension of that.
Littledave, Jackson, and Stephens all said the response they have received to the real conversation they have been having on these podcasts is resonating. Families have been reaching out, and the podcast itself has had thousands of downloads.
“It’s just reassuring to us that we know what we’re supposed to be doing here,” said Jackson.
“It’s better to share their name and their story than to have left it unsaid,” said Stephens.
“These stories should matter, anyway, because these women are people. And they are people that matter,” said Littledave.