Pen-Del Committee on Native American Ministries Walk for a Cause

May 14, 2023

Pictures by Adrienne Harmon

This past Sunday, May 7, saw a dedicated group of Delawareans dressed in red and black walk down Main Street of Cheswold carrying a bright banner with the vivid image of a bloodied handprint on the back of a Native woman representing the unabated violence against Indigenous people. They gathered and walked to bring awareness and action regarding the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women movement. The walkers included members of the First People of the First State from the Three Sister Tribes of the Nanticoke, the Lenape and the Nanticoke Lenni Lenape of New Jersey, in addition to a few non-Native friends.


Bonita McNatt of the Nanticoke Lenni Lenape Tribe, the event’s coordinator, said this:
“We walk in this world and dream of a day when we can walk side-by-side without fear or hatred. Our people have long been silenced…like we do not matter…like we are being erased from time and history. We wear red so the spirits of our missing and murdered indigenous relatives will not be erased and to lead their spirits home to rest.

The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls movement, now expanded to include women, girls, boys, men and Two-Spirited persons, developed momentum in the early 2000’s as more and more Native communities raised the alarm that an inordinate number of women and girls were inexplicably missing. Law enforcement agencies failed to respond effectively as layers upon layers of historical contradictory and prejudicial legal decisions, practices and governmental policies provided significant obstacles to any reasonable path of investigation.

The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs website states: “For decades, Native American and Alaska Native communities have struggled with high rates of assault, abduction, and murder of women.  Community advocates describe the crisis as a legacy of generations of government policies of forced removal, land seizures and violence inflicted on Native peoples. 
  • A 2016 National Institute of Justice (NIJ) study found that more than four in five American Indian and Alaska Native women (84.3 percent) have experienced violence in their lifetime, including 56.1 percent who have experienced sexual violence.
  • In the year leading up to the study, 39.8 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native women had experienced violence, including 14.4 percent who had experienced sexual violence.”
Statistics from the Urban Indian Health Institute, compiled from a survey of 71 U.S. cities in 2016, indicate that the murder rate of Native American women living on reservations is ten times higher than the national average for women. Murder is the third leading cause of death for Native women.

The National Crime Information Center reported in 2016 that there were 5,712 reports of missing American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls. At the same time, however, the US Department of Justice’s federal missing person database, NamUs, logged only 116 cases. This disparity in reporting numbers reflects only one significant aspect of the problems facing Indigenous communities.

While conditions in the State of Delaware are less severe in actual numbers, most Native families and their friends here are painfully aware of the deep grief and anger that results from a relative or friend of the family who has gone missing or found murdered and the corresponding lack of response on the part of legal authorities.

The event’s organizer, Bonita McNatt, quoted Robert F. Kennedy and expressed the group’s hopes:

“Bobby Kennedy once said: ‘That these conditions can be allowed to prevail among a people uniquely entitled to call themselves the First Americans, a people whose civilizations flourished here for centuries before the name “America” was thought of – this is nothing less than a national disgrace.’ We hope to make a difference in that way. We know that our people are precious, our daughters, aunts, cousins, mothers, grandmothers. We know that for change to happen, we have to speak up. Our walk today was an effort of small steps toward a much larger change that is needed.”