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Creation Date

Fall 2023


Becoming a Martyr

By Jordan Martin

Her name was Cora Eckley. She was three parts Ponca and one part Irish. Her Ponca mother learned the cruelty of the world when Cora was still learning to walk. Nobody mentioned her much. What was there to talk about? She had given birth to a daughter and one day she was gone like she never existed at all.

Cora spent most of her nights working as a shift manager at Olive Garden. A thankless position that often left her closing the store alone, only to be rewarded with the trudge back to her drafty brick line apartment. At 29, she was alone. Her coworkers could never quite meet her steady gaze and tittered nervously when she came around. As for family, without her mother, her father had embraced his nomadic roots and packed his bags to trek the globe, and her family on both sides were none too eager to embrace a woman who was an awkward unwieldy other, so they just treated Cora like her mother and her mother evidently impressed them none too much herself.

One night when the streetlights became beacons on the cratered asphalt, Cora felt her way out of the now darken vestibule at the front of the restaurant, cursing her habitual luck of finding out the closing jobs were left to her trusty care. As she fumbled with her keys in the approaching darkness, a warm breeze floated along the air, calming the racing in her heart that always began at sunset and continued to her bedroom. Being angular and face and build and noticeably darker than most people around her, her Ponca features often felt like the small target on everyone's back had a slightly more vivid shade of red on hers. After locking the door to the restaurant, she strode quickly across the empty pavement sliding into her car with practiced fatigue, filling the still parking lot with the coffin rumble of her engine roaring to life. Her car made a gravelly crunching sound as it ground the loose concrete to ever smaller bits and rolled slowly out of the parking lot.

On the way home that night, Cora had one stop to make at a local bakery that had finished a cake for a fellow jogger in her weekly runners’ group. After hearing the tiny ding of the register sliding open she accepted the change without meeting the Baker's eyes and held the cake close in both hands as her clacking footsteps followed her down the aisle. Since she was one of the rare few out buying cakes that time of night, the parking lot was nearly empty as she exited the shop into the courtyard lot of the strip mall. As the faded Navy paint job drew closer in her bobbing view, she heard the rapid brushing of footsteps racing up from behind. Before she had a chance to cry out, a hand was over her mouth. Another forcibly wrenching her wrist behind her back and the cake tumbled to the ground with the dull plastic thud.

Whether there were three, four, or five, or six men there that night is irrelevant. What matters is that when law enforcement finally acted, it was six days after the initial report that Cora was announced missing. With the only evidence of her struggle being crumbs of dark chocolate moose and swipes of creamy white frosting. Thanks to Cora's mixed upbringing, the police report indicated that her braid and strong features were reported in the initial call and that the officers were aware before coming on scene that she was Ponca by heritage. But to the state, that was as good as the dismissal. After a rather halfhearted weeklong search, local law enforcement eventually admitted defeat and called it off citing lack of evidence and eyewitness sources as absolutely critical factors in their investigation. However, much to the chagrin of the department and the outrage of the local media, Cora was found a few weeks later, a few 100 miles West down Interstate 80 half-submerged in an irrigation ditch off a small entry road to some local hunting land. At the point of discovery, her body had become horribly bloated and the summer conditions spared her no reprieve from the muggy conditions. In an ironic twist of fate, the combination of the unsightly state of Cora's body and being discovered by an innocently young girl, was finally what it took to shake the slumber from the community shoulders.

In the weeks after Cora’s death, local native activists met with reservation visitors district and court officials and the regional media outlets to broadcast her story. While her condition did not encourage the live photography, Cora became a symbolic image to many people. A woman who was much larger than life. A woman who was all at once endurance, innocence, and unity. The outcry from thousands of fellow citizens, ones who could have passed her every day of her life and not noticed once, forced the state to seriously reconsider the threat of human trafficking especially along major inroads. As usual there was the sprucing of the police force, the obligatory public press releases, the parade of interviews by nameless and faceless and unremarkable folks in uniform, and who all believe that impressive shows of force are all it takes to save victims from their abuser.

The truth is the important change did not come from some uncaring institution but as these cases often go, from enough morally motivated individuals. Crowdfunding supported the formation of the Indian Protection Agency Initiative. A newfangled group set on educating its young men and women in the dangers of sex trafficking, training them in voluntary, life-saving self-defense, and police interaction training, creating a public Relief Fund for other victims of similar crimes and encouraging activism especially in empowering its young men and women to speak on their own behalf. The IP initiative has gained traction every day encouraging struggling indigenous urbanites to embrace tradition and community as productive alternatives to debauchery and poverty. There are other regular moments of friction with the state, of course, but Cora has instilled passion and purpose deep within the core of the social discourse. Thanks to her untimely sacrifice many others returned home safely to their families for as many nights as they please and Cora will be in every moment.