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

  • Average house price in Canada rises at slowest annual pace in 2 years in December, up 3.5%

    Canada News CBC News
    The average price of a Canadian home continues to move higher, but there are signs of a slowdown, according to figures from the Canadian Real Estate Association. CREA said Monday that the average sales price in December was $470,661 — 3.5 per cent higher than the same month a year earlier. Source
  • Woman who blasted Trudeau gets online threats [Photos]

    Canada News Toronto Sun
    The woman who told Prime Minister Justin Trudeau she could barely afford to eat after paying her carbon tax and hydro bills now says she’s been receiving threats online. Kathy Katula, the 54-year-old mother of four and grandma of three, said after she was featured in the Toronto Sun about her Peterborough townhall appearance with Trudeau on Friday, trolls and haters have been flooding her Facebook wall with negative comments. Source
  • Ivanka Trump to continue working on women's issues

    World News CTV News
    DES MOINES, Iowa -- She may not be working in the White House, but that doesn't mean Ivanka Trump is staying out of politics. Although she has said she will have no official role in her father's administration, Ivanka Trump has been quietly laying the groundwork for an effort that could make her perhaps the best-connected policy advocate in Washington. Source
  • Police: 5 killed in shooting at nightclub at Mexican resort

    World News CTV News
    CANCUN, Mexico -- A gunman killed at least five people and wounded more than a dozen others Monday at a nightclub in the Caribbean coast resort of Playa del Carmen, police said. The shooting occurred in the early morning hours outside the Blue Parrot nightclub, which was hosting an event that was part of the BPM electronic music festival. Source
  • Two bombs explode at Nigeria's Maiduguri University killing 5

    World News CTV News
    MAIDUGURI, Nigeria -- Three suicide bombers, including a child, exploded at dawn Monday at Nigeria's northeastern University of Maiduguri, killing a university professor and another child, witnesses and police said. The bombers also died. One blast ripped through the mosque where professors were saying dawn prayers and at least one is among victims, police and rescue officials said. Source
  • Trump haters 'mellow' on leaving U.S. for Cape Breton, site founder says

    Canada News CTV News
    The founder of the website "Cape Breton If Trump Wins" says traffic has "mellowed out" since the U.S. election, as most of the now president-elect's opponents who claimed they'd abandon ship now appear ready to go down with it. Source
  • Support unit for ill, injured military personnel short dozens of staff

    Canada News CTV News
    OTTAWA -- Dozens of positions at the military's oft-criticized support unit for ill and injured service members, including those suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and other psychological injuries, are empty. National Defence says it's trying to fill the vacancies at the Joint Personnel Support Unit, which was short 73 staff members - or about 17 per cent of its workforce - in December. Source
  • Philippines protests China's weapons installation on islands

    World News CTV News
    MANILA, Philippines -- The Philippines has filed a low-key diplomatic protest with China after a U.S. think-tank reported that Beijing appears to have installed anti-aircraft and anti-missile weapons on its man-made islands in the strategically vital South China Sea, the country's top diplomat said Monday. Source
  • Hot air balloon crash injures 6 tourists in U.A.E. desert

    World News CTV News
    DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - Investigators in the United Arab Emirates are looking into what caused a hot-air balloon to abruptly drop from the sky, injuring six tourists onboard. Police in the emirate of Sharjah said Monday that the balloon struck the ground Saturday morning as it flew over the desert near the small town of al-Madam. Source
  • 37 killed after Turkish plane crashes in Kyrgyzstan [Video]

    World News Toronto Sun
    BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan — The Health Ministry in Kyrgyzstan says a cargo plane has crashed in a residential area just outside the Central Asian country’s main airport, killing 32 people. The ministry said Monday that the Turkish airline Boeing 747 crash-landed just outside the Manas airport, south of the capital Bishkek, killing at least 15 people in a residential area adjacent to the airport as well as 17 people onboard the plane. Source