‘She burned really bright’: Lawrence community members mourn death of advocate, environmentalist

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After fighting multiple illnesses, a Lawrence community advocate and environmentalist has died.

Abigail Jo Jones, citizen of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, died on Tuesday at Lawrence Memorial Hospital from sepsis, according to her oldest daughter, Chehalis Jones, enrolled member of the Miccosukee Band of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma. She was 42 years old. 

Most people knew Jones as Ma’Ko’Quah, but Chehalis, 20, said her culture’s tradition is to call their deceased loved ones by their English names. 

Sepsis occurs when the body has an extreme response to an infection. Jones had been suffering from several ailments, including rheumatoid arthritis and acute kidney failure, for a while. Despite her pain, she authentically showed up for people, Chehalis said.

“I made sure to let her know that she was definitely loved by every single person that ever knew her,” Chehalis said. “She burned really bright. She was super memorable, because she was unabashedly herself.”

Chehalis shared that she cut her long hair into a pixie cut on Friday, which is a tradition in her culture when a close loved one dies. Time hasn’t allowed the grief to fully set in for Chehalis because she’s had to tend to details and arrangements, seeing as she’s Jones’ next of kin.

“I have been feeling unable to accept that it’s happened because I’ve been in decision-making mode,” Chehalis said.

Jones is survived by her five children, Chehalis; KJ, 17; Nashoba, 13; Cokkoloswovce, 9; and Hvyayvkē, 5, who just started kindergarten this year.

Tributes from family, friends and community members have continued to pour out over the last few days.

Brooklynne Mosley, Lawrence resident and close friend of Jones, recalled how the two met more than seven years ago. Mosley was working on Bernie Sanders’ Democratic National Convention campaign in 2016, and Jones had become involved, too, as an elected delegate. 

Photos courtesy of Brooklynne Mosley

Early on, Mosley knew the type of person Jones was: someone she wanted to keep around for the long haul. Losing her has been a complete shock, she said.

“She was a light in the community and she took up a lot of space, but most of all, she was a really good friend,” Mosley said. “And she just really cared about people, and she gave back as much as she could, even when she had very little.”

Jones advocated in several efforts across Lawrence and beyond. Notably, she was involved with the League of Women Voters of Lawrence-Douglas County, served as chair of Lawrence’s Sustainability Advisory Board and more. 

She also campaigned for a Lawrence City Commission seat in 2021, hoping to bring her experiences as a Native American woman and her environmental knowledge to the table. Her stance emphasized climate change policies. 

Jones “knocked doors again in 2022, taught the community how to be better stewards of our planet, and served on the board of directors for the Kansas Holistic Defenders office, and so much more!” the Douglas County Democrats wrote of Jones in their recent newsletter. 

Most recently, she was working remotely with Heartland Environmental Justice Center as a community program coordinator.

August Rudisell/Lawrence Times In this Aug. 31, 2021 photo, Abigail (Ma’Ko’Quah) Jones, then the chair of the city’s Sustainability Advisory Board, left, speaks with Melek Ben-Ayed outside Lawrence City Hall.

The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) movement was also dear to her, and she helped advocate for a Kansas bill, passed in 2021, that implemented training for law enforcement agencies on investigating cases of missing and murdered Indigenous people.

As she championed for others, Jones didn’t shy away from sharing her own story, which in a large part included her motherhood journey. Jones birthed six children, including her son Osceola, who died at 7 months from SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).

Jones was proud to be a mother.

“She always advocated for them,” Mosley said. “She always wanted the best for them. And she just raised some really bright kids.”

She was also proud to be Indigenous. Mosley said Jones told her she never saw higher education in her future before learning about Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence. 

In 2011, Jones earned her associate degree in liberal arts from Haskell. She then earned her bachelor’s degree in government and Native American studies from Dartmouth College in 2014 and went on to earn her master’s degree in environmental law and policy from Vermont Law and Graduate School in 2015. She was “brilliant” inside and outside of the classroom, Mosley said, but she had a humbleness about her.

Jones remained tight with the Haskell community, staying involved and offering her support. Haskell had a special place in her heart.

Jones moved to Lawrence in 2009 to attend Haskell. She and her family left Lawrence in 2011, returned in 2015, and had been living here since. She lived in Earlsboro, Oklahoma during her childhood and then in Shawnee, Oklahoma as an adolescent.

Answering a questionnaire for the 2021 Lawrence City Commission election, Jones said she loved to read political history memoirs, watch historical and political documentaries, spend time and debate with her kids, play board games, swim, and go to the movies. 

“She was loud and crass, but she also made time to be tender and loving,” Chehalis said. “And even though she was battling many neuroses a lot of the time, she still managed to always come back and be who she always was meant to be. I’m very happy that she doesn’t have to fight anymore because every day was a battle for her.”

Memorial services for Jones are being arranged to take place in Oklahoma. Her family members have organized a GoFundMe page for associated costs, and they hope to reach a $3,500 goal. Donations can be made to the page at gofundme.com/f/mako-quah-abigail-jones.

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Maya Hodison (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at mhodison (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

Note: This post has been corrected from a previous version.

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