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

  • Oscar Pistorius's sentence more than doubled to 13 years, 5 months

    World News CBC News
    South Africa's Supreme Court of Appeal on Friday increased Oscar Pistorius's murder sentence to 13 years and five months after the state argued that his original sentence of six years was "shockingly lenient." Pistorius was imprisoned in July last year after being found guilty on appeal of murdering girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine's Day 2013 in a case that attracted worldwide interest. Source
  • Hamilton school bus driver charged in alleged abduction of 14-year-old girl

    Canada News CTV News
    Hamilton police say a 70-year-old school bus driver is facing abduction charges after several alleged incidents involving a 14-year-old girl. Police allege the developmentally delayed girl was abducted four times in late October while being driven to and from school in the city's east end. Source
  • China reports breaking up gang that moved $3 billion abroad

    World News CTV News
    BEIJING - Chinese police say they have broken up a gang that smuggled 20 billion yuan ($3 billion) out of the country, evading financial controls imposed by Beijing to stem an outflow of capital from the economy. Source
  • Texas trooper killed during traffic stop; suspect arrested

    World News CTV News
    FAIRFIELD, Texas - A Texas state trooper was shot and killed during a traffic stop in East Texas on Thanksgiving. The Texas Department of Public Safety released a statement on its Twitter account Thursday night identifying the trooper as Damon Allen, 41. Source
  • Chinese authorities look into kindergarten abuse claims

    World News CTV News
    BEIJING - Chinese authorities are investigating allegations that children attending a kindergarten in Beijing run by a U.S.-listed company have been abused and molested. The Beijing Municipal Commission of Education said Friday it would inspect kindergartens in the Chinese capital, a day after the reports drew widespread attention. Source
  • Firefighters who responded to Mississauga explosion receive Medals of Bravery

    Canada News CTV News
    Paramedics and firefighters who responded to a massive warehouse explosion in Mississauga, Ont. were among those honoured for their bravery at an awards ceremony at Rideau Hall on Thursday. Eleven first-responders from across central Ontario rushed to the explosion on April 23, 2014. Source
  • U.S. navy ends search for 3 sailors missing after plane crash

    World News CBC News
    The search has ended for three sailors missing in the Philippine Sea since a U.S. navy aircraft crashed on Wednesday, the navy said Friday. The C-2A "Greyhound" transport aircraft was travelling to the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier when it crashed. Source
  • 8 thought to be North Korean fishermen wash ashore in Japan

    World News CTV News
    TOKYO -- Japanese police said Friday they are investigating eight men found on Japan's northern coast who say they are from North Korea and washed ashore after their boat broke down. Akita prefectural police found the men late Thursday after receiving a call that suspicious men were standing around at the seaside in Yurihonjo town. Source
  • Flynn lawyers make a break with Trump team: AP source

    World News CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- Lawyers for former U.S. national security adviser Michael Flynn have told U.S. President Donald Trump's legal team that they are no longer communicating with them about special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election interference. Source
  • Kevin Rubletz guilty of second-degree murder in death of Jessica Newman

    Canada News CBC News
    A Calgary jury has found Kevin Rubletz guilty of second-degree murder in the stabbing death of his former girlfriend Jessica Newman. Members of Newman's family shed tears as the verdict was read Thursday evening in a Calgary courtroom. Source