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Watch Now: Navajo woman passes through Cherokee Nation on walking journey to raise awareness for missing aunt, MMIP crisis

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Seraphine Warren is walking from Sweetwater, Az. to Washington, D.C. in honor of her aunt Ella Mae Begay who is missing.

A Navajo woman is walking from Arizona to Washington, D.C., to bring a spotlight to the missing and murdered indigenous people crisis that has taken one of her own relatives.

Seraphine Warren made several stops in the Cherokee Nation on Friday on her long journey from Sweetwater, Arizona — where her aunt, Ella Mae Begay, was last seen on June 15, 2021 — which began June 15, the one-year anniversary of her aunt’s disappearance.

Begay is a well-regarded rug weaver, a boarding school survivor, a mother and a grandmother.

“She always wanted everyone to be OK and to live at peace,” Warren said. “I just want to see her the way we last saw her.”

Warren’s walk, called “Trailing Ella Mae,” has started conversations about the missing and murdered indigenous people — or MMIP — crisis, and its start coincides almost to the day with the disappearance of a Muscogee man who was last seen in Holdenville on June 17.

Warren’s walk has a two-fold mission, to shed light on the MMIP crisis across the country and to make people see that Indigenous women and people are important.

“I want all these cases to be treated how Gabby Petito’s case was treated,” Warren said of all MMIP cases. “It’s unfair. I feel devalued, that we don’t have any value.”

The Petito case highlighted the disparity in police resources and media attention often focused on missing white women compared to missing people of color and generated calls for law enforcement to treat all cases similarly, NBC News reported after Petito’s body was found in Teton National Forest in Wyoming.

Warren said the Navajo Nation, as well as many other tribal nations, lacks the police resources and equipment to properly search for missing people, and there are only a handful of FBI agents across the 27,413-square-mile Navajo Reservation.

Within her own reservation, Warren said she still worries about her adult daughter being out on her own.

“My daughter is 23, but I still have to make sure I know where she’s at,” Warren said. “That’s how bad it is. I can’t even go into the mountain and meditate without letting someone know, or I worry them.”

Of her aunt, Warren said she hopes she can go home after her cross-country walk and find out what happened to Begay.

The pain her loss causes almost makes her at a loss for words.

“I don’t know how I can live,” Warren said through tears. “When can I just turn around and not have to look for her anymore? When I’m done with my walk, if we still haven’t found her, what more can I do? I feel like I’m stuck.”

That feeling is echoed in Indigenous people throughout the U.S., and in south-central Oklahoma, Tiffany Cully said she feels the same pang of loss for her missing husband.

Daniel Cully, a Muscogee citizen, was last seen near Holdenville Lake in Holdenville, where he was dropped off by a family member on June 17 “to meet someone for a job.” He has not been seen or heard from since.

He had been acting unlike himself the day before he disappeared, Tiffany Cully said, and she worries about whom he was meeting, because none of his friends have seen him, either.

The family has searched areas around Holdenville, Okmulgee, Ada, Seminole and even McAlester to no avail, and his “Red Alert” missing poster has been plastered on MMIP organization Facebook pages for the last two months.

In the roughly 50 days since his disappearance, Tiffany Cully said she has been stuck in limbo, not knowing what to do.

“I don’t know,” Tiffany Cully said of how she feels. “Do I move on without him? Do I wait for him to come back? Did something happen? I feel lost. It tore my world apart.

“So many questions have been asked, but I’m just lost right now.”

After turning his life around from a stint in prison, Daniel Cully got his GED, was starting a reintegration program at the Citizen Potawatomi Nation and hoped to soon get his associate degree from the College of the Muscogee Nation, his wife said.

“We were starting a new chapter in our life,” she said. “We just want to know he’s OK.”

A week before he disappeared, he had punctured his foot on a screw and had a limp, she said, so she is worried about infection or further injuries.

Anyone who may have information about Daniel Cully is asked to contact the Muscogee Nation Lighthorse Police Department at 918-732-7800.

Seraphine Warren’s “Trailing Ella Mae” walk, which will end in Washington around October, can be followed through the walk’s Facebook Page, and a GoFundMe account has been set up to help with her mission.

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Breaking News Reporter

A lifelong Tulsa resident, I have worked around Oklahoma covering sports and news. I joined the Tulsa World in 2021 to cover breaking news.

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