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Artist, Activist Walks Against Violence Against Native Women

Marita Growing Thunder (right) walks along Hillside Rd in honor  of missing and murdered indigenous women on March 27. Tuesday was day three of a four day 80 mile walk.
Nicky Ouellet

A young artist and activist is wrapping up a four-day walk across the Flathead reservation Thursday to bring attention to violence against Native American women.

"I haven't met a family who this hasn't impacted," Marita Growing Thunder tells me beside the road near St. Ignatius. 

Growing Thunder is an enrolled member of the Ft Peck Assiniboine Sioux tribes who lives in Polson. For the second year in a row, she's walking 80 miles across the Flathead reservation wearing one of the hundreds of ribbon skirts she's made to honor indigenous women who have disappeared or lost their lives, largely unnoticed outside of Native communities.

"This purple dress I'm wearing today is for RaeLynne Charlo," Growing Thunder tells me.

"She was murdered in 2015 over here in this - in the Flathead Indian Reservation where we're at right now. She taught at Kicking Horse Job Corps, and we started today at Kicking Horse, over near Hillside, and we're heading down to Mission and up from Mission we're taking 93 to Ravalli. I just thought I'd wear it because, every time I'm down this road I think about her. RaeLynn was definitely beloved in this community, as a beloved educator as well as mother, sister." 

Growing Thunder says it's important that indigenous women who are murdered, disappear or victims of violence are important members of their families and communities, and not just numbers. But, she says, one of the reasons she's walking is to advocate for a registry or database that tracks how many Native women are hurt or lost.

As we're talking, a man pulls over on the side of the road to see what's going on.

"I thought maybe there was an accident," the man said. 

"No, I'm walking 80 miles," Growing Thunder  said. 

"I'm proud of you," the man responded. "I wish I would have known you guys were here and I would have grabbed  some water or something for you guys. Be safe now."

Growing Thunder says this kind of thing has happened a lot during the walk.

She's also been spit and yelled at.

On Friday morning, the State-Tribal Relations Committee will hear reviews of existing programs, services and gaps in tackling human trafficking, missing persons and violence against women in Indian Country.

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