Seraphine Warren arrives in Washington DC on walk for Trailing Ellamae

Seraphine Warren meets with supporters at the Navajo Nation Washington Office Oct. 12 (Photo/Trailing Ellamae/Facebook)

Seraphine Warren meets with supporters at the Navajo Nation Washington Office Oct. 12 (Photo/Trailing Ellamae/Facebook)

WASHINGTON — After a long journey on foot from the Navajo Nation in Arizona, Seraphine Warren livestreamed her arrival in Washington D.C. to her Facebook followers continually calling attention to her aunt, Ella Mae Begay, who went missing from Sweetwater, Arizona in 2021.

Warren, who started her trek this year on the anniversary of Begay’s disappearance, June 15, 2022, wanted to call attention to not just her aunt, but also Missing and Murdered Indigenous People across the country. Warren’s Facebook page, Trailing Ellamae, traced her progress on the 2,400-mile walk from Sweetwater, Arizona to the capitol.

Begay disappeared June 15, 2021 at age 62 and hasn’t been seen since. Warren said the point of the walk is to make sure her aunt doesn’t become another unsolved MMIP case. When walking to Window Rock in an attempt to bring attention to Begay’s case to the tribal council and Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez didn’t bring about a break in the case, Warren hoped to bring attention and resources to the search, according to Indian Country Today.

The Urban Indian Health Institute (UIHI) cites many reasons MMIP cases are not investigated including underreporting, racial misclassification, poor relationships between law enforcement and Native communities, poor record-keeping protocols, institutional racism in the media and a lack of substantive relationships between journalists and Native communities.

A report released by UIHI in 2016, said the National Crime Information Center reported that there were 5,712 reports of missing Native women and girls, although, NamUS, the U.S. Department of Justice’s federal missing persons database logged only 116.

While those numbers are improving with the FBI in New Mexico making an effort to correctly classify MMIP cases, as with Begay, many cases are still left unresolved for families.

“It feels like us, as Natives, we’re not important,” Warren told the Washington Post last week in an interview citing both the lack of support from law enforcement and of media attention when Indigenous people go missing.

Department of Interior Secretary Deb Haaland did meet with Warren, according to the Washington Post and “generally listened” to what she had to say.

But the reality is, even with Haaland’s increased focus on MMIP since she’s been in office and task forces put in place to address the issue, there is still a lack of resources, including law enforcement officers, to make a dent in solving cases. Resources could include anything from cadaver dogs, helicopters, drones to money for rewards – and a way for jurisdictions to work together, including tribal police and the FBI.

In a recent case, Tre C. James, 30, from Pinon, Arizona, was arrested for the murder of Jamie Yazzie, who went missing in the summer of 2019, and whose remains were found on the edge of the Hopi Reservation in November 2021.

As in other cases, Yazzie’s family encountered what felt like resistance from law enforcement to take the case seriously and even at the time of James’ arrest the family hadn’t been told why the FBI had arrested him then, what led them to Yazzie’s remains and if anyone else was involved in moving her to where she was found, Marilene James, Yazzie’s maternal aunt, told the Navajo-Hopi Observer in August 2022.

Warren told Indian Country Today that while she hears from people who tell her that criticizing law enforcement won’t make them want to help her, she said it is not criticizing as much as she is telling them something is wrong — and the families who she walked for on her trek to Washington D.C. have experienced the same issues she has.

But in the end, Warren just wants to find her aunt and whether that is ignoring those who tell her that she should stop searching because of her culture, that she should just let it go, she can’t do that and that is one reason she made the walk to D.C.

“What do we do?” she asked rhetorically to Indian Country Today. “Just leave her out there?”

The Washington Post and Indian Country Today contributed to this article.

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