Intersections of Justice: Community Leader Spotlight of Crystal Cavalier Keck

Crystal Cavalier Keck and husband Jason Crazy Bear Keck in front of their home garden.

Crystal Cavalier Keck of Mebane, NC, is a member of the Occoneechee Band of the Saponi Nation and is the founder of the Missing Murdered Indigenous Coalition of North Carolina (MMIWNC). MMIWNC is a non-profit that is dedicated to pooling resources and raising awareness about the high number of Indigenous women and girls who go missing. She also sits on the NAACP Environmental Justice Board and co-founded a business, Seven Directions of Service, with her husband to promote community service opportunities in Native communities. 

As a member of these organizations and communities, one of Ms. Cavalier Keck’s goals is to educate people about problems in their communities and how they are affected by these problems, as well as making sure community members are being heard and supported. 

Ms. Cavalier Keck first became interested in the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women when she was working in Washington, D.C. “I was learning about marginalized communities and learning about this epidemic and how it affected us… Then, when I came home, I heard about this woman in Person County who was trafficked to Alamance County… It just got me looking into the statistics and the data and I found out we have this huge problem in Robeson County as well as across the state.”

This discovery led to the founding of MMIWNC. The coalition does not only offer support to families of missing and murdered women, but they have also created and maintained a comprehensive database with data and information about missing and murdered people in these communities. “We’re trying to get the state to take that over and handle that one database because if there is one database that’s being managed… we feel like that could help law enforcement and other organizations looking for people who are missing a lot better than what they have, because they don’t have anything now that tracks missing or murdered people.”

Additionally, Ms. Cavalier Keck’s work includes actively opposing the Mountain Valley Pipeline Southgate, a proposed natural gas pipeline that would run from Virginia into central North Carolina. “What I’ve been doing for that is just making sure people are educated and aware of what’s happening, because usually people don’t find out until it’s too late, so I’ve just been trying to educate, especially in the tribal community and people of color.” 

She also mentions her desire to reach out to farmers and the Latino community in that area. “Most of the people that have these farms today are still descendants of those [Irish and Scottish] settlers, and so those are relatives of mine… These are people that have 50, 60, 70 to 300 acres of farmland that’s being affected out here in Alamance County.” 

Ms. Cavalier Keck is currently writing her thesis on both missing and murdered Indigenous women and gas and oil pipelines in frontline communities. She considers this mixture of social justice issues with environmental justice issues to be integral. “Environmentalism? intersects with social justice and social justice intersects with race.” 

According to the 2010 census, 0.9% of the United States population identifies as Native American alone, and 1.7% of the population identifies as Native American as well as another race. The combination of these statistics results in Native Americans being one of the smallest demographic populations in the U.S,  and Ms. Cavalier Keck notes this as well as a lack of education around the issue. 

“Since the beginning of education, Native American people have been erased from the history and so people don’t understand that there are still active communities here… there’s all sorts of stereotypes of what Natives are supposed to look like.” She attributes this as the reason for why there is not a lot of nationwide interest in the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women. 

This erasure has other impacts, too. “It all reverts back to land and land ownership. When they can erase people such as the Native Americans – they erase them out and genocide them out and turn them into another race – they no longer have rights, as the government would say, to the land.”

As for the intersection of these social justice issues with pipelines, she says, “It’s just a really bad situation. Most of these pipelines are going through marginalized communities… It’s just like a cycle of trauma that is affecting these people. They grow up with this cycle and it’s really hard to break unless someone is actually going in there and working with the community, instilling community values, trying to change things.”

Crystal Cavalier Keck

In August of this year, Ms. Cavalier Keck’s work and advocacy resulted in the water quality permit for the Southgate Pipeline being denied, which was a huge victory for the community. “We spent three weeks encouraging people to make phone calls, write letters, send emails saying to deny this permit, and uniting the people. Usually you see a lot of these environmental organizations doing their own thing but not really working together, but I feel that if we could work together in unison, we would be much stronger than we are separate.”