They traveled from
Washington State to Plymouth Rock in Massachusettsand they're
not done yet.
Courtesy Duane Garvais
Lenice Blackbird, a 25-year-old member of the Omaha
Tribe in Nebraska, left her home in late June to isolate after
being diagnosed with COVID-19
and she never returned. Her body was found a few days
later in the woods near a cabin in Macy, Nebraska, according to
in the Siouxland News.
In September, her mother, Donna Blackbird, stood with friends and
family on the Omaha Reservation, holding a poster decorated with
Lenice's face and a red handprintwidely used to symbolize
Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW)and told her family's
story to Duane Garvais Lawrence and his Facebook
Lawrence added Lenice's name in red ink to the back of the RV he'd
parked nearby, and the next day, he ran and biked in her honor.
The 54-year-old resident of Toledo, Washingtonwho is a descendent
of the Colville and Assiniboine tribeswas running and riding
across the United States to raise funds and awareness for women
like Lenice who had been killed.
Government statistics have found
that in some communities, Native American women are murdered at
rates nearly 10 times the national average. According to a 2016
Institute of Justice report, 84 percent of American Indian or
Alaskan Native women have experienced violence in their lifetime,
including 56 percent who have experienced sexual violence.
"Our sacred life-givers are at the highest rates of being raped
and murdered and killed across the United States of America," Lawrence
told Runner's World.
Lawrencealong with Colville tribal member Willi Bessette,
39, and Lakota member Ethan LaDeaux, 21began the cross-country
trip in Blaine, Washington, in late August, and ran and biked until
they reached Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts, on Oct. 3. Along the
way, they collected cash and online donations through a GoFundMe
for MMIW Washington,
a non-profit advocating for legislation and other actions.
Courtesy Duane Garvais
"Not only are they continuing the awareness, they're also becoming
role models for other young men," Earth-Feather Sovereign, an activist
and the executive director of MMIW Washington, told Runner's
World. "I call them our prayer warriors, because with our community,
we say everything that you do is a prayer."
A Call to Action
Lawrence's passion for the issue was ignited two years ago, when
he was working as assistant chief of police for the Cowlitz tribe
and a copy of legislation known as Savanna's
Act crossed his desk. The billwhich is named for Savanna
LaFontaine-Greywind, a member of the Spirit Lake Nation who was
murdered by a neighbor in 2017calls for enhanced federal efforts
to investigate and prevent similar crimes, and was passed by the
Senate, but not the House, in 2018.
The revelations in the bill "made me sick to my stomach," Lawrence
said. He knew he had to act.
Inspired by athletes like Rosalie
Fish, a Cowlitz tribal member who has run high school races
with the red handprint on her face, Lawrence came up with the idea
for the cross-country run and bike journey. "It was laid upon my
spirit, upon my heart," he said.
Lawrence had experience running, thanks to his days in the U.S.
Marine Corps, and he already owned an RV, where he figured he could
sleep most nights. Now he just needed someone to share the miles,
or at least drive the vehicle. He asked Sovereign, but the single
mother of four couldn't get away for so long.
Dave Barnett, vice chairman of the Cowlitz tribe and a standout
distance runner at
the University of Washington in the 1980s, caught wind of Lawrence's
effort. "When I heard he was doing it, I wished I was in shape to
go along," Barnett told Runner's World.
Instead, Barnett offered to fund the journey.
"For me, the cause is really important. Native American women go
missing and there's not a lot of support systems out there, on or
off the reservation. They fall through the cracks."
With Barnett's help and that of Kevin Knorr, of local bike shop
Cycleworks, Lawrence acquired a bikea 2020 Salsa
Journeyman 650 Claris. He also stocked up with other critical
equipment, including mirrors, biking
pants, and extra tubes and air pumps.
Duane Garvais Lawrence
on a cycling leg of the journey. Courtesy Duane Garvais Lawrence
To these key pieces of gear, Lawrence added three eagle feathers,
symbols of strength for the journey. He painted a red handprint
on his face and wrote the names of missing women and family members
and the number 18,609 on his arms. (The number reflects an estimate
of MMIW based on National
Crime Information Center data.)
A Creative Approach
On August 27, Lawrence drove to Peace Arch Park in Blaine, Washingtonjust
south of the Canadian borderand put out a call on Facebook
Live for others to join him.
After three days of waiting, Lawrence's wife, LoVina Louie, came
up with a plan so he could start his journey alone. He could drive
the RV half the distance he planned to run for the day, then run
back to the arch and return, she proposed. So the next day, that's
what he did.
He started with a 3.5-mile drive, then a seven-mile round-trip
run back to the vehicle. That afternoon, he drove another 25 miles,
then biked 50 miles. It was an ambitious distance, he admittedespecially
since he'd forgotten to wear the bike pantsbut despite some
discomfort, he successfully returned to the RV that evening.
He continued until he reached Omak, Washington, a city on the Colville
Indian Reservation about 300 miles away. There, he picked up Bessette,
an old friend who'd expressed interest in response to one of his
Facebook posts. Though Bessette had been a bit non-committal at
first, something told Lawrence to reach out again. The call came
at the perfect time, Bessette agreed.
"I was depressed before Duane got there," he said. "He gave me
a new start mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
It's like a new journey in life, a new chapter."
The first steps of running were painful, Bessette admitted. He'd
played basketball and other sports growing up and now works in construction,
but hadn't been running for years. "I remember I was so exhausted,"
he said. "I asked Duane, how far was that? He's like, that was only
But soon he fell into a groove. With Barnett's help, he bought
new pairs of Under
Armour shoes, which eased the impact on his jointsand
synced to the MapMyRun app to track mileage, so he'd know how often
to swap them out.
AMERICAN WOMEN GO MISSING AND THERE'S NOT A LOT OF SUPPORT SYSTEMS
OUT THERE, ON OR OFF THE RESERVATION. THEY FALL THROUGH THE
Every weekday morning, they'd get up, sing a spiritual song, and
perform a cleansing ritual called smudging, where they'd burn a
mix of sage, tobacco, and traditional medicines. After a breakfast
of eggs and sausage cooked in the microwave, they'd trade off running
legs in the morning, with the other man driving the RV to the next
meeting point. Around 11:30, they'd stop for lunch, then take turns
biking in the afternoon, both using the 2020 Salsa
Journeyman 650 Claris bike.
At night, they'd pull into a Wal-Mart parking lot, where they could
connect to power and wifi. And each weekend, they checked into a
hotel, where they showered, rested, did laundry, and contacted family
and friends back home.
A New Companion
In that manner, the pair ran and pedaled through the West. They
stopped in Spokane, Washington; Missoula, Montana; and at the Crow
reservation, also in Montana. By mid-September, they'd reached the
Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, where LaDeux was living
at the time.
A mutual friend of LaDeux and Lawrence named Mary Weasel Bear,
who also lived on the Pine Ridge Reservation, saw Lawrence's posts
on social media about his cross-country trip. She asked LaDeux if
he wanted to go on a bike and a run, and he quickly agreed, thinking
the two of them might travel from one side of the reservation to
the other. But once she told him more about Lawrence and his plan,
he packed his bags for the long haul.
"I knew about the movement; I have family members that are missing,"
he said. "This was a calling. I took it."
With the added reinforcement, the trio picked up speedand
a strong voice for their morning ritual. LaDeux, who describes himself
as a song keeper of Pine Ridge, has a vast repertoire of traditional
melodies. "When he sings in praise, it's touching. It gave me chills,"
Ethan LaDeaux joined
the group when they reached the Pine Ridge Reservation in
South Dakota. Courtesy Duane Garvais Lawrence
From there, they stopped at several more reservationsincluding
Rosebud and Yankton Sioux reservations in South Dakota, the Meskwaki
Reservation in Iowa, and the Ponca Reservation in Nebraska. At each,
tribal leaders, members, and relatives of missing and murdered women
welcomed them, sometimes running with them, or riding alongside
When their motivation flagged, the mission drove them forward.
Slowing down on a steep hill, LaDeux reflected on words Lawrence
had shared: that for every hill they crested, justice would be served
for 10 women. He kept up the climb.
Bessette recalled feeling fatigued near Spokane, then looking over
to see a poster for a missing woman from the Coeur d'Alene tribe
tacked to a tree. "It reminded me that this is what we're doinggiving
hope and closure to some families," he said. "It gave me a purpose."
Reversing the Tides
Before their final destination, the men had one more important
stop: Washington, D.C. When they arrived on September 29, they prayed,
sang, and danced in front of the White House, Supreme Court, and
other important buildings, asking for the reauthorization of Savanna's
Act. "We weren't there for politics," Lawrence said. "We were there
for our women."
Courtesy Duane Garvais
After they departed, the act passed. It was signed
into law October 10.
Still, their mission wasn't yet complete. On October 3timed
to the 400th anniversary of the pilgrim's landingthey arrived
at Plymouth Rock. Near the statue of Massasoit, chief of the Wampanoag
Indians that sits on higher ground, they held a small prayer ceremony.
Sovereign flew in from Washington; the men presented her with $1,500
in additional donations they'd raised along the way, separate from
Locals from the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, descendents of those who
welcomed the pilgrims, also joined them.
Together, they sang a powerful tune called "The Turnaround Song,"
designed to root out and reverse evil. They spoke the names of women
lost, discussed treaties between Native Americans and the U.S. government
that had gone unfulfilled, and prayed for better days ahead. In
total, the group had covered about 1,500 miles running and biking.
The men then drove the RV back to Washington state, which took
a little more than a week. Bessette returned to Omak, where he now
regularly logs about 15 miles of running and cycling a week near
mountains and lakes. LaDeux is staying, for the time being, with
Lawrence and his family, and also continues his active pursuits.
"Running and biking has become a part of my life," LaDeux said,
"and will be a part of my life till I can't run anymore."
In fact, the trio are planning another cross-country expedition
in June. They hope to follow the route of the Longest
Walk, a 3,000-plus mile journey first undertaken in 1978 to
protest bills that threatened Native Americans' treaty rights.
It's still in the planning phases, but this time, they aim to gather
a larger crew. Sovereign said she hopes she'll be able to join for
at least part of the journey. But regardless of the role she'll
play, she's grateful for the men's efforts, and the rising profile
of the MMIW movement.
"We all have the right to walk this land, feeling safe and free
from harm," she said. Despite years of trauma and hardship for Native
Americans, she maintains hope for the future. "I still believe that
with better choices, we can all help heal each other."
CINDY KUZMA Contributing Writer
Cindy is a freelance health and fitness writer, author, and podcaster
who's contributed regularly to Runner's World since 2013.