LUMBERTON — A new podcast is elevating the muted voices of indigenous people who have been murdered or who are missing.
That is the main goal of the “Red Justice Project” podcast, hosted by Robeson County natives Chelsea Locklear, 31, and Brittany Hunt, 30. Since the first episode aired two months ago, the podcast picked up a significant audience, garnering hundreds of downloads per episode.
What sets the podcast apart from others is the focus on indigenous people across the United States and Canada, with the focus being on Robeson County.
“Our podcast is unique in that it is an indigenous-led podcast that tells indigenous stories as well,” said Hunt, who lives in Charlotte.
With the color red often being represented as a call for attention to people murdered and missing in indigenous communities, the name of the podcast translates the hosts’ message.
“I think our podcast is another way to bring another form of justice to victims,” said Locklear, of Raleigh. “It shows that people actually care, that people want to know what happened.”
“That’s our goal, to constantly elevate who we are, not just the indigenous but as Lumbee people,” Locklear added.
The idea for the podcast came from Locklear, who grew up near Maxton, and developed something of an addiction to true crime in the podcast format. That soon spread to Hunt, a Lumberton native.
“She had been telling me to listen to true crime podcasts because I had never really listened to them before,” Hunt said. “Now I’m literally, completely obsessed.”
When the podcast “Serial” came out in 2014, true crime stories found its way to more households. Podcast’s host Sarah Koenig’s telling of the murder of Hae Min Lee and the conviction of her boyfriend, Adnan Syed, particularly resonated with Locklear.
“When ‘Serial’ came out in 2014, it kind of sensationalized podcasts,” she said. “The ability to tell a story in that kind of format, I thought, was pretty powerful.
“I thought is was just such a cool way too listen to to stories in a different way.”
Koenig’s podcast has inspired a list of true crime podcasts, including the “Red Justice Project.”
Getting Hunt hooked on podcasts turned out to be Locklear’s ulterior motive, which was to recruit her as a co-host in their own series focusing on stories that resonate with their communities.
“It was her idea to do a true crime story that kind of centers indigenous people because a lot of the time a lot of the true crime podcasts that we listen to are narrated by white people or white women specifically,” Hunt said. “A lot of cases we tell are cases that have not gotten a lot of national media attention because indigenous people tend to not get as much attention as people from other demographics”
When Locklear was thinking about a podcast, she was thinking of a broad range of indigenous stories across the country, but wanted to place an emphasis on her own roots.
“I constantly think about home a lot and I think about the things that are going on back home,” Locklear said. “If you are black or Native or white, Robeson County history is very fascinating from each perspective.”
Unfortunately, the two hosts believe all that history isn’t told enough.
“I think the goal for indigenous people in America, of the media and of the system in general, is to erase us through whatever means,” Hunt said.
This is why the duo alternates stories based in Robeson County with national stories.
The stories told come from a list compiled by Hunt and Locklear, and scripts are produced through research and interviews. The cases chosen are those that are well-know murders that are not talked about as much today, like the murder of the prominent Lumbee figure Julian Pierce. The latest episode on 18-year-old Marcey Blanks was a case that particularly hit close to home for Hunt.
“She’s actually someone I knew when I worked at Lumberton Senior High School,” Hunt said. “There were maybe four articles about her murder. It was extremely gruesome.”
Finding content has proven to be difficult because of people’s hesitancy to relive their tragedies and fear.
“There’s still some fear that people have about discussing some of these cases,” Hunt said. “People do have a hesitation to talk when the crime is not solved.”
“I wouldn’t say we are uncovering things, but we’re learning things that are uncomfortable for our community to talk about just because of the trauma,” Hunt added.
Things also have been “hushed up” because of the time that has passed.
“There are a lot of stories that we don’t talk about,” Locklear said. “I’ll talk to my momma and she’ll say ‘I forgot about that’ or ‘I hardly heard about that,’ so I think it’s just interesting to tell stories about where you’re from.”
Once the stories and content are accumulated putting it in story form is the next challenge.
“I think that is the hardest part of it,” Locklear said. “How do you frame this story, telling it in a way that’s going to engage people to keep listening?”
The two apparently have found the correct formula. The podcast has now reached listeners in more the 25 states across the United States and the goal is to reach thousands more to further spread the silenced indigenous voices and even potentially solve a case.
“To know that our project helped solve a case, I think that would be awesome,” Locklear said.
Eleven episodes are already available for download. Anyone can subscribe to “Red Justice Project” wherever they get their podcast or by visiting www.redjusticepodcast.com. New episodes premiere each Monday.