“Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women: Our Part in Bringing Justice”
On Wednesday November 1st, McGill Students for UN Women hosted an event entitled “Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women: Our Part in Bringing Justice.” The event consisted of a film screening of Finding Dawn, and a discussion with guest speakers Cheryl McDonald and Melanie Morrison, who have both been personally affected. I walk into the event, warmly greeted by the students hosting, and led over to a table of snacks and drinks. We start off this evening making small talk and eating Midnight-Kitchen-donated blackberry cake, but little did I know that we end it in silence, the room heavy with anger and sadness.
Soon after I find a seat the lights are dimmed and the film is introduced. Finding Dawn is a film created in 2006, by Métis filmmaker Christine Welsh. The film opens by stating that there have been over 500 cases in the past 20 years of missing and murdered Indigenous women, and this issue has received very little attention. Welsh explains that this film is an attempt to tell the stories of some of these women, in an effort to make the issue known. We begin with the story of Dawn, for whom the film is named. Dawn Crey is the 23rd woman whose remains had been found on the property of a serial killer in British Columbia, Robert Pickton. After having discovered Dawn, Christine Welsh wanted to know more. She wanted to know who Dawn was, what had happened, what her life had been like. So she dedicated her time and this film to finding out, and along the way found stories of countless other women, with stories just as tragic as Dawn’s.
And so Christine guides the dozens of McGill students, sitting in Lev Buckman on this rainy Wednesday night, through the stories and lives of these women. We learn the stories of Ramona Wilson and Daleen Kay Bosse. We learn of the 60+ women who have gone missing from Vancouver’s skid row; we learn of Highway 16, the Highway of Tears, where police list the number of victims gone missing at 19, but indigenous organizations’ estimates are in the forties; finally, we are led to Saskatoon, where many murders and disappearances remain unsolved. But we also learn the stories of activists fighting against this, and working to raise awareness. We hear testimonies from Professor Janice Acoose and Fay Blaney, we hear of events like the Annual Women’s Memorial March in Vancouver, and the hundreds that come out to walk the length of Highway 16. Most of all, we hear Christine Welsh’s cry that this is everyone’s responsibility. We must work together to put an end to these tragic stories and take part in raising awareness. In her words, “we will search for the missing and call them home.”
The lights are turned back on. I, for one, have a million words to say and yet find myself unable to speak, struck into silence by these stories. Thankfully, it is not my turn to speak, but that of Cheryl McDonald and Melanie Morrison, who have both been personally affected by this. Melanie Morrison stands up to speak first, and tells the story of her sister, who was murdered. She tells us of the four years that it took police to find her sister’s body, and how her investigation still goes on today. She tells us that she is finally finding a voice, finally able to tell not only her sister’s story, but hers as well. Policing policy on missing peoples needs to change, she explains. It’s not right to pick and choose who gets coverage when someone goes missing. Everyone should be treated equally; every case should get the same attention. Next, Cheryl McDonald stands, who has also lost her sister. She tells us that it’s important that she and Melanie have found their voices, but it’s also important that everyone in this room – and now everyone reading this article - finds theirs. We need to speak up and raise awareness for the tragedies we have learned of here tonight. We need to take these stories and make them ours as well. We can’t stop until these cases are resolved, until missing persons’ cases are treated equally, until all these stories and told and heard. In 2014, The Royal Canadian Mounted Police released the Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women: A National Operation Overview, and reported that there are 1,181 cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women across Canada - much more than the film suggested (1). Indigenous women make up 16% of murdered women in Canada, and 11% of missing women, but only 4.3% of the Canadian population (2). We need to keep working so that there are no more new stories like these left to tell, no more new cases to report.
To watch the film: https://www.nfb.ca/film/finding_dawn/
(1) Ontario Native Women’s Association, 2014. Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women: Fact Sheet http://www.onwa.ca/upload/documents/missing-and-murdered-fact-sheet.pdf