They gathered from First Nations communities along the Highway of Tears, the road leading from Prince George to Prince Rupert in central British Columbia. They beat drums as they marched and carried pictures of their missing and murdered loved ones, all Aboriginal women who had disappeared without a trace.
Her voice choking with emotion, one woman sobbed, “My little girl said, ‘Don’t worry. I’ll be home.’ And she blew me a kiss, and she said, ‘I love you.’ That was the last time I seen my little girl.”
The year was 2006, and the families were marching to Prince George to demand justice for their lost family members. In the five years since, though more women have disappeared, not one case has been solved. In September 2011, Wally Opal, head of the B.C. Missing Women Commission of Inquiry, traveled the highway, meeting with communities whose daughters, sisters and aunts were among the victims. The terrible question hangs over their losses: Would the RCMP have acted swifter and more diligently had the women been white?
Karen Whonnock, of B.C’s Moricetown band, told the inquiry that RCMP officers stop vehicles to check on seat belts or look for illegally caught fish, but they never stop vehicles when an Aboriginal woman goes missing. A CBC news story quotes her: “It really states…illegal fish is a higher priority than a native life.”
A Search for Justice
The commission is also looking into reports of missing women from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and the handling of the murder investigation against Robert William Pickton. He was arrested in 1997 but released in 1998, allowing the serial murderer to continue his killing spree. By the time he was in custody again in 2002, he could brag to police he had killed 49 women. His favorite victims were drug addicts and prostitutes, many of them Aboriginal women. The question rears its head again: Would the police have ended the grisly spree sooner had the women been white and middle class?
Echoes of this story rebound across Canada. The Native Women’s Association of Canada report published in 2010 put the total number of victims at 582 over a period of three decades. Most of the women in their database were murdered, but 115 were still missing. They acknowledged the numbers were likely much lower than the actual total because Canada has no national missing persons database and does not always identify Aboriginal status on police records.
Walk for Justice, a B.C.-based volunteer group, estimates the number of missing and murdered women to be as high as 4,200. They have compiled a database that shows the majority of those women to be Aboriginal, in a country where First Nations people comprise less than four percent of the population.
These women are victims of horrible sexual violence. Their lives matter. Their deaths diminish us all. Their families deserve answers. Canada’s failure to undertake a national inquiry and to act to end systemic racism is shameful. Join us in calling for a national inquiry and an end to violence against Aboriginal women.
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Photo from marbla123 via Flickr Creative Commons