In the summer of 2018, 23-year-old Jermain Charlo headed to downtown Missoula, Montana, for a drink. Charlo, a young Indigenous woman, lingered at the bar until just after midnight, when she walked down an alleyway, turned a corner, and was never seen again.
On the new podcast Stolen: The Search for Jermain, award-winning journalist Connie Walker investigates Charlo’s disappearance, while also shedding light on the rampant violence faced by Indigenous women across the United States. Over the course of eight episodes, Walker joins an ongoing investigation, traversing the mountains of the Flathead Reservation in western Montana and tracking down leads on human traffickers and drug dealers. Listen to an exclusive trailer below.
Walker, who is Cree from Okanese First Nation in Canada, previously reported and hosted the Missing & Murdered podcast, which focused on unsolved murders and disappearances of Indigenous women in Canada. The podcast earned critical praise and over 30 million downloads during its two seasons, and in 2019, Walker announced she was leaving the CBC to work for Gimlet Media.
Stolen: The Search for Jermain is Walker’s first investigation of a missing Indigenous woman outside of Canada. “There’s still a lot for me to learn about what the Indigenous experience is in the United States,” Walker said in a recent interview. “And one of the things that was really important for me, as I started thinking about what it would mean to report on this issue in the United States, was really connecting with the people who I knew were already doing this work on the ground and in their communities.”
Walker learned about Jermain Charlo from Lauren Small Rodriguez, an Indigenous advocate who works with survivors of sex trafficking in Montana. In speaking with Rodriguez and other advocates, Walker quickly noticed that Montana had an exceptionally high number of cases of violence against Indigenous women. But Charlo’s case was still open, offering a small flicker of hope that, just maybe, her story would turn out differently.
Walker reported the majority of the podcast during the pandemic, which was especially challenging for this particular story. “[Indigenous people] have this experience of people coming in and taking our stories and then leaving, and the damage that it does to communities and to people on an individual level is devastating,” said Walker. “I think a lot of my work has been trying to address that wrong, and right that wrong, and undo some of that harm. And that really starts with building relationships and building trust within communities. And it’s very difficult to do that, if not impossible, on the phone.”
Ultimately, Walker was able to take a single reporting trip to meet Charlo’s family and interview them, resulting in poignant audio that captures both the lasting grief and deep resilience of her loved ones—particularly her grandmother, or Yaya, who is still praying for answers two years later.
For Walker, podcasting is the ideal medium for the stories she wants to tell: the longform nature of a serialized show allows her to focus on individual experiences, while also illustrating how systemic issues like institutional racism and the legacy of colonialism continue to impact the lives of Indigenous people in America. It’s work that she feels called to do.
This content was originally published here.