Grieving families seek voice in missing, murdered aboriginal women inquiry

WINNIPEG - For years, Bernadette Smith says, she felt like she was waging a battle on her own.

When her sister, Claudette Osborne, disappeared in 2008, Smith held vigils with a handful of people who knew her pain, put up "missing" posters with family members and, more recently, organized a group to drag Winnipeg's Red River for clues about the fate of missing and murdered indigenous women.

See Full Article

"I remember feeling so angry and crying and going: 'Where is everybody? Why doesn't our community care about our women?"' Smith recalls. "Does a life not matter?"

Osborne's four children and Smith still don't have the answers they are looking for, but the search has become a little less lonely.

And when an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women gets underway, as early as the summer, Smith and other families hope their voices will be heard and given the weight they deserve.

"It's the families that are living this every day and breathing this," Smith says. "They're the ones who know what could have prevented what's happened to their loved ones."

The RCMP issued a landmark report last year which put the total of missing and murdered aboriginal women at 1,181. Indigenous women make up 4.3 per cent of the Canadian population, but the report found they account for 16 per cent of female homicides and 11.3 per cent of missing women.

For years, the families whose loved ones are part of those statistics called for an inquiry, but the previous Conservative government steadfastly refused.

The Liberals came to power in October and last week new Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett announced an inquiry the shape and scope of which is to be determined in the next few months. It will rely heavily on input from families, she said.

Many are asking for the power to formally advise the inquiry. They want to ensure financial assistance for those who want to participate, as well as guarantee culturally appropriate support services.

"It's a lot different than any other kind of commission or inquiry," says Beverley Jacobs, lead researcher on Amnesty International's report on missing and murdered indigenous women. "It's very spiritual and emotional ... We're not talking about a pipeline."

Jacobs, who is a former president of the Native Women's Association of Canada, has a personal interest in the upcoming inquiry.

Her cousin, Tashina General, was 21 when her body was found in a shallow grave on the Six Nations reserve in southern Ontario. General was four months pregnant and had been strangled. Her former boyfriend was convicted of second-degree murder, but a new trial recently was ordered upon appeal.

An inquiry has to have built-in ceremonies that take into account that a dead woman's spirit is disrupted every time her name is mentioned, Jacobs says.

"They're resting (and) we're bringing up some of the horrific issues that they had to endure. They're very close by. Having that ceremony, feasts and elder involvement has to be an integral part of the inquiry process."

The inquiry should also learn from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission by travelling to often-remote communities to better understand the victims, she suggests.

Families, she says, will need culturally appropriate support services as they relive the trauma of losing their mothers, daughters, aunts or sisters.

"It's to ensure that no harm is done to any person that's involved."

Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson, who represents northern Manitoba First Nations, says the process must be shaped by those who have fought so long for the issue to be recognized.

Families who have held vigils to bring attention to the disappearance of indigenous women are the reason why an inquiry has been called, she says. The inquiry should not only honour them, but listen to them carefully.

"It would give us all the lay of the land - how police react to them, how they have to do ... the searches themselves," says North Wilson, head of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak. "They know what it feels like to be patronized."

For Smith, the inquiry wasn't something she lobbied for.

A government committed to reducing violence against indigenous women could use the estimated $40 million the inquiry will cost on programs addressing the root causes highlighted by previous studies, she says.

But now that an inquiry is coming, she wants to be part of it.

"We've waited this long."



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Giuliani advises no Mueller interview without informant info

    World News CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Donald Trump's legal team would advise that he refuse to submit to an interview with special counsel Robert Mueller unless the team can review classified information shared with select lawmakers about the origins of the FBI investigation into Russia's election meddling, Trump's personal lawyer said Sunday. Source
  • Conservative, leftist appear headed for runoff in Colombia

    World News CTV News
    BOGOTA -- The conservative protege of a powerful former president and a leftist former guerrilla who has galvanized voters with an anti-establishment message appeared headed for what promises to be a polarizing runoff election for president in Colombia. Source
  • 'Free yourself' of Liberals, Coalition Avenir Quebec leader tells anglos

    Canada News CTV News
    LEVIS, Que. -- The leader of the Coalition Avenir Quebec urged English-speaking Quebecers on Sunday to liberate themselves from Premier Philippe Couillard's Liberals in October's provincial election. "Free yourself!" Francois Legault told supporters during the closing speech of a party meeting in Levis, on the outskirts of Quebec City. Source
  • Crews cleaning up oil spill at Kinder Morgan station north of Kamloops, B.C.

    Canada News CBC News
    Crews using an emergency response trailer and vacuum trucks are working to clean up a crude oil spill at a Kinder Morgan station north of Kamloops, B.C. The provincial Ministry of Environment said a flow meter has leaked about 100 litres of crude oil into the ground at the Darfield station. Source
  • Crew of 27 Nova Scotians dispatched to help fight Alberta forest fires

    Canada News CTV News
    HALIFAX -- A crew of 27 people from Nova Scotia's Department of Natural Resources was in Alberta Sunday to help control wildfires sweeping across parts of the province. A spokesman with the department said the crew arrived in Edmonton Saturday evening and will remain in Alberta for two weeks. Source
  • George H.W. Bush taken to hospital in Maine

    World News CBC News
    Former U.S. president George H.W. Bush was hospitalized Sunday in Maine after he experienced low blood pressure and fatigue, a spokesperson said. Bush, 93, was awake, alert and not in any discomfort, said spokesperson Jim McGrath. Bush will spend at least a few days in the hospital for observation. Source
  • Indigenous chiefs, activists attend Kinder Morgan protest in Montreal

    Canada News CTV News
    MONTREAL -- Three prominent Quebec-area Indigenous chiefs were among the hundreds of people who gathered in Montreal on Sunday to protest the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion. Assembly of First Nations regional Chief Ghislain Picard, Mohawk Chief Serge Simon and Innu Chief Jean-Charles Pietacho spoke out against the project, citing the need to show solidarity with First Nations and other groups in British Columbia who are fighting against it. Source
  • Environment Canada issues air quality, heat statements for southern Ontario

    Canada News CTV News
    Summer weather is making itself known in southern Ontario, with rising temperatures bringing along the season’s first special air quality statement from Environment Canada. Hot and sunny conditions in southwestern Ontario and the Greater Toronto Area comes with the possibility of high levels of air pollution Sunday afternoon through Monday, Environment Canada warns. Source
  • Flash flooding reported in Maryland as heavy rain soaks area

    World News CTV News
    ELLICOTT CITY, Md. -- Flash floods struck a Maryland community wracked by similar flooding in 2016, authorities said, and water rescues were being carried out as raging brown waters surged through the streets Sunday. News outlets showed photos and video of turbulent water rushing down Main Street in Ellicott City, some 13 miles (20 kilometres) west of Baltimore. Source
  • Authorities: Flash flood surges through Maryland community

    World News CTV News
    ELLICOTT CITY, Md. -- Flash floods struck a Maryland city on Sunday that had been wracked by similar devastation two years earlier, prompting emergency rescues as raging waters engulfed cars and rose above the first floor of some buildings, authorities said. Source