The Klamath Tribes unite in vision of collective healing following murder of sisters

Grief and loss support gathering held at the Klamath Tribes Youth & Family Guidance Center

The Klamath Tribes unite in vision of collective healing following murder of sisters

On June 29, the Klamath Tribal community was shaken by the horrific murders of two teenage sisters, resulting in both ripples of sorrow and calls to action.

The incident happened in Klamath Falls, Saturday morning on June 29, causing Tashka Qualls to experience the devastating death of his two daughters, Zion and Aleeka Qualls, 14 and 19 years of age, both Klamath Tribal descendants. The murder suspect, 20-year-old Elijah Albert Qinkade Croy, faces multiple charges, including two counts of first-degree murder.

Croy’s indictment hearing was Tuesday, July 2, which determined there was enough evidence for the charges. The following Tuesday, July 9, the courtroom flooded with the Qualls sisters’ supporters to witness Croy getting formally charged at the arraignment hearing. Inside the courtroom was standing room only. Outside the courthouse, a crowd gathered with posters that read: No More Stolen Sisters; Stand Up, Speak Up; MMIP (Missing and Murdered Indigenous People); and more. The arraignment hearing was not completed and instead was rescheduled for Aug. 5.

The murder of the sisters sparked immediate action from the Klamath Tribes and other community organizations. Tayas Yawks, a local grassroots organization founded by sisters’ great-grandparents, offered grief support groups on July 1 and 2. On July 3, Klamath Tribal Health & Family Services (KTH&FS) hosted a grief and loss support group in Klamath Falls. Then, on July 7, droves gathered near the Klamath County Courthouse, spilling from the sidewalk and onto Main Street, for the sisters’ candlelight vigil.

At the July 3 grief and loss group, a wave of shared sentiment moved throughout the room of approximately 20 participants. The group included Klamath Tribes Council members, Klamath Tribal Health & Family Services and Klamath Tribal Administration employees, Indigenous elders, and parents with their children.

Klamath Tribes Council Member Les Anderson, grandfather to the sisters, told those at the grief and loss group that his son Tashka “wants to help shed a light on the hurt in the community.”

The recent murders are part of a larger issue requiring greater efforts to expose the higher rates of violence perpetrated on Indigenous people and greater prevention efforts to reduce future acts of violence.

“What has happened to our two girls is a catalyst for change,” said Klamath Tribes Council Member Natalie Ball.

Discussions during the grief and loss group centered on increasing awareness of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples (MMIP) nationwide movement, finding ways for Tribal members to have continuous grief support resources, and brainstorming ideas to help prevent violence against Indigenous people.  

Klamath Tribes Chairman William E. Ray, Jr stated that the recent incident “affects all of us because we’re so interrelated.”

The MMIP movement started due to Indigenous girls experiencing higher rates of violence and the crimes not being appropriately or adequately addressed. The movement originally centered on female victims, then later began including Two-Spirit people, and now encompasses all Indigenous people, as males also experience higher rates of violence.

The Klamath Tribes are closely tied to the MMIP movement as several members have experienced direct or indirect involvement in some form. Each year, the Klamath Tribes participates in MMIP awareness events to support the community. Historically and presently, the tribe is a collectivist society, meaning when one family experiences a loss, it impacts the entire group. The opposite is also so, whereas the wellness of the tribe, as a whole, increases when individual members receive support in their health and healing.

Past Klamath Tribes Chairman Marvin Garcia discussed the correlation between practicing culture and greater health. “We’ve assimilated in a lot of different ways that aren’t all healthy,” he said. “We need to disseminate this and live differently.”

Both Garcia and Council Member Ellsworth Lang described culture as an imperative component of teaching new generations. “Stand up and say who you are and be who you are,” Garcia said.

“As a group, we can be so much stronger if we unite and be as one,” said Susan Lawlor, Tribal Health Director of Behavioral Health.