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Participants trekking from Window Rock to Shiprock

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RED VALLEY, Ariz. — As John Tsosie walked along Navajo Route 13 here on Thursday, he carried a sign that states, "Remembering those that are missing" and depicts a faceless Native American woman.

Tsosie is part of a group that is calling attention to the issue of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls by walking from Window Rock, Arizona, to Shiprock.

Tsosie is a co-founder of Walking the Healing Path Inc., an organization he started in 2003 with his father, Ernest Tsosie Jr., to educate tribal communities about domestic violence.

For the ninth time, the two men have organized a walk to bring attention to a social issue with a significant presence on the Navajo Nation.

This time, they are bring attention to the high number of women and girls who go missing or are murdered on tribal lands, and to heighten awareness about the rate of domestic violence happening in Indian Country.

The National Indigenous Women's Resource Center reports that Native women suffer from violence at a rate two and half times greater than that of any other population in the United States.

The center also reports that one in three Native women will be raped in her lifetime and four in five will be victims of a violent assault.

"We want the issue at the forefront. The problem is growing with human trafficking and sex trafficking. It is here on the Navajo Nation, and no one is really talking about it," Tsosie said.

He added the walk is designed to open the door to discussion whether by tribal leaders or community members.

Group members started walking on Oct. 13 from the Veterans Memorial Park in Window Rock, Arizona, and will stop on Saturday at the Phil L. Thomas Performing Arts Center in Shiprock.

When The Daily Times visited on Thursday, the group was walking on Navajo Route 13 south of Red Valley-Cove High School here.

The journey is also dedicated to Ashlynne Mike, who was abducted, sexually assaulted and murdered on the Navajo Nation in May 2016.

Tsosie said he asked for permission from the 11-year-old girl's parents, Gary Mike and Pamela Foster, to dedicate the walk to their daughter.

"They were more than supportive in doing that," Tsosie said, adding Gary Mike is among those walking the entire route, and Pamela Foster will speak at an event for the group on Saturday.

The group planned a vigil this evening for Ashlynne Mike at the memorial site on Navajo Route 13 near the area where she was found dead south of the Shiprock pinnacle.

The group has conducted presentations about domestic violence, bullying, keeping children safe and suicide prevention in communities along the 112-mile route.

Presenters also talk about the act of forgiveness and how that helps the healing process, Tsosie said.

Sarah Begay is the secretary of the Red Valley Chapter Community Emergency Response Team, which has been escorting the walkers as they travel. Begay decided to participate in the walk because she is a survivor of domestic violence, and she is concerned about the rising number of such cases in Red Valley.

She owns a police scanner and explained that she hears countless calls about situations involving domestic violence, child abuse and drunken driving.

"We hear that on the scanner. It is an everyday thing now," Begay said adding one way to counter the issue is to talk about it openly.

Lukachukai, Arizona, resident Bobby Mason joined the walk near Buffalo Pass on Lukachukai Mountain. He said he supports the effort to increase awareness about missing and murdered Indigenous women.

"It is very alarming. Those statistics are growing every year," Mason said.

Tsosie, whose fluorescent orange vest has a patch in the shape of a turtle with the words, "Women are Sacred," said each walk concludes with a celebration.

The celebration for this walk will be from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday at the Phil L. Thomas Performing Arts Center in Shiprock. The free event includes performances by comedians and actors Ernest Tsosie III and James Bilagody, and speeches by Pamela Foster, Gary Mike, Navajo Nation Council Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty and Deleana OtherBull, the executive director for the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women in Albuquerque.

It includes a screening of the short film, "Mud" by director Shaandiin Tome and a sneak preview of a documentary film about Walking the Healing Path.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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