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Native American Runners Honor A Kansas City Murder Victim On Their Months-Long Journey To D.C.

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Luke X. Martin
/
KCUR 89.3
Raymond Cavanaugh runs through Kansas City's Leeds neighborhood on his way to the 9200 block of Pitcher Road, where the body of Lakota Renville was found in 2005.

To honor missing and murdered Indigenous people, a group of Native American advocates is making a months-long trip across the country on foot and by bike.

A group of Native American advocates, running and biking across the country to raise awareness of missing and murdered Indigenous women, made their way through Kansas City on Wednesday.

After following 39th Street and Stadium Drive east, the group of eight sang and prayed at the site in Independence, Missouri, where 22-year-old Lakota Renville was found dead in October 2005.

This is the second year Duane Garvais Lawrence has made this journey for justice. Garvais Lawrence said last year’s passage of "Savanna’s Act," a federal law to help track, solve, and prevent crimes against Native Americans, compelled him to honor victims somehow.

“I’ve always been an athlete, and I’m very blessed to be able to still run and bike and everything at my age,” said Garvais Lawrence, 55.

Garvais Lawrence remembered telling his wife, “I think what I want to do is I want to run and bike across America on the sovereign Indian reservations.”

The group started their cross-country journey at the state capitol in Olympia, Washington, on July 17, and are making their way to Washington, D.C. There, Garvais Lawrence said they will meet with U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland — the first Native American to hold a Cabinet position in U.S. history.

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Luke X. Martin
Mary Weasel Bear leads the group of activists up Stadium Drive in Kansas City.

Runners plan to arrive in D.C. on Oct. 17. Along the way, they are winding through tribal and non-tribal lands, honoring local missing or murdered indigenous people by painting the victim’s names on a runner’s arm, and then on the side of their RV.

So far, the RV has 317 names on it.

Among the runners is Mary Weasel Bear, who first met Lakota Renville as a 14-year-old at Crow Creek Tribal Schools, on the Crow Creek Reservation in South Dakota.

"Lakota moved down here in 2002, 2003, met a man whose intentions weren’t so good and, you know how that goes,” said Weasel Bear, who now lives in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. “The next time we heard anything on Lakota was when she was dumped here.”

When she was found, Renville had been badly beaten and stabbed. Her body was wrapped in a Southwestern-style blanket and left on an empty lot on the 9200 block of Pitcher Road. Her murder has not been solved.

Weasel Bear didn’t hesitate to say she thinks more resources would have been devoted to solving Renville’s murder had she been white.

“It is because she’s Native,” Weasel Bear said. “(But) it doesn’t make her any less. She’s still my friend, she’s still a daughter, an auntie and a sister. She’s a warrior.”

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Luke X. Martin
Lakota Renville's name appears among 316 others on the group's RV.

The cross-country journey is happening during a flood of media coverage of the disappearance and death of Gabby Petito, a white woman whose body was found on Sunday in Wyoming. But Garvais Lawrence called the timing a coincidence.

“There’s 716 other cases in Wyoming that didn’t receive any attention at all,” Garvais Lawrence said. “That is blood — blood on America’s conscience and society. It's got to end, and it will not end unless we have cooperation from our non-tribal brothers and sisters.”

According to reporting by the Kansas City Star, police at one point thought Renville may have been picked up by her killer near Independence and Myrtle Avenues. A witness reported seeing a brown, early-1990s model Ford Explorer with Missouri tags in the area where Renville’s body was discovered.

“To me, it really hits home because I have relatives who were missing or murdered as well,” said Raymond Cavanaugh, a Spirit Lake Nation member who lives in Fort Totten, North Dakota. “Especially to be going through North Carolina, where my niece was found … it means a lot."

Most of the people gathered in the empty lot on Wednesday afternoon have friends or family who were murdered or went missing.

A 2020 report by the Sovereign Bodies Institute found that the majority of the 2,306 cases of missing Native American women and girls in the U.S. remain unsolved.

Each of them serve as inspiration for the group as they continue their journey.

“(As a runner) you have good days and you have bad days,” Garvais Lawrence said, “but we believe every step is a prayer, every cycle of that bike is a prayer.”

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Luke X. Martin
Mary Weasel Bear and Duane Garvais Lawrence pray near the site where Lakota Renville's body was found. Weasel Bear and Renville met when the two were teenagers.

Anyone with information about the death of Lakota Renville is asked to call the TIPS Hotline at 816-474-TIPS (474-8477), submit tips electronically at KCcrimestoppers.com, or text TIP452 and information to 274637 (CRIMES).

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