Teenager walks across reservation to empower women
Marita Growing Thunder continued her year-long journey to bring recognition to thousands of missing or murdered indigenous women by walking across the Flathead Indian Reservation from Rollins to Arlee.
“I wanted to do this walk to bring more awareness to this issue,” she said. “And I want to dedicate it to all the women of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and the women found on the Highway of Tears.”
Marita is a senior at Polson High School. Her project began earlier this year when she committed to wearing dresses in the style traditional to aboriginal American women every day until school lets out for the summer. And she sews those dresses herself. She even made a special one for the Polson High School prom.
Saturday, April 8, was day one of her four-day trek across the reservation. She started the walk in Rollins, at the north end of the reservation. She walked 30 miles the first day followed by about a dozen people.
“Anyone that wants to can walk with me,” she said. She started out the morning of the second day by riding a horse through Polson for about five miles. She walked through Pablo. More people joined her in the walk. Cars continuously honked in support as she went.
In the afternoon, she stopped outside of Ronan to take off her shoe. A painful blister had formed on her foot, making it difficult to walk. “It’s okay,” she said, gritting her teeth. A pit crew, made up of family members, wrapped her foot. She said she felt like she shouldn’t complain.
“I think the pain that the missing and murdered women experienced was worse,” she said. “And the pain their families are going through. I’m doing this for all of them.”
Growing Thunder knows about the emotional pain of losing a family member to violence. She has lost two aunts to homicide. Her mother, Shannon Ahhaitty, told Growing Thunder about those family members as a cautionary measure.
“Women are taken or murdered all the time, and I want to protect her,” Ahhaitty said. “I’m sending her off to college soon, and I want to keep her safe.”
Growing Thunder believes bringing awareness to the issue gives the missing or murdered women a voice and brings attention to their lives. She says she hopes the more people know about the problem, the less likely it will occur.
Allison Pretty On Top from the Crow Reservation joined the walk. Allison said Indian women often go missing without a trace. She thinks it’s a possibility that perpetrators won’t look at Indian women as an easy target if more people pay attention to the issue. Kelly Bolton also joined the walk.
Kelly is from British Columbia, Canada, near the Highway of Tears where dozens of women have vanished. She is attending college at SKC.
“This young lady is doing an amazing job,” Bolton said of Growing Thunder. “I came from a community really affected by this problem, and I think it’s so important to bring awareness to it.