The epidemic of Canada’s missing and murdered Indigenous women
In the summer of 2007, Fonassa Bruyere was 17 years old, bubbly and took great care of her grandmother. When she went missing on August 9, her family frantically searched for her as it was extremely out of character for her to leave and not contact anyone. Janet and Crystal Bruyere, Fonassa’s grandmother and cousin, brought the disappearance to the local police station where their concerns were quickly dismissed by an officer who told them that Fonassa was “just a prostitute on a binge.” A few weeks later, Fonassa’s body was discovered in a field with 17 stab wounds, ending her young life. 10 years later, the case is still unsolved. Fonassa Bruyere was an Indigenous woman.
June 11, 1994, was the last day that Ramona Wilson’s family saw their 16-year-old daughter at their home in Smithers, British Columbia. Referred to as her mother’s “sweetheart baby”, Ramona was kind and sensitive, the youngest daughter of five siblings who often still crawled into bed with her mother late at night. When Ramona never came home from an evening out with friends, Matilda, Ramona’s mother, contacted the RCMP, who began a search. Nearly a year later in April of 1995, Ramona’s body was discovered in a wooded area near the local airport. Ramona was killed near the Highway of Tears, a stretch of roadway in the Western part of Canada where many indigenous women have either been killed or gone missing. 23 years later, Ramona’s case is still unsolved. Ramona Wilson was an Indigenous woman.
Linda Condo was last seen in Quebec on October 8, 1988. She was 37 years old and working to build a relationship with her biological son. Two weeks later, her body was found in a forest near Pointe-de-Muguasha on the Gaspe Peninsula of Quebec. She had been fatally shot in the head, and left on the trail for 11 days before she was discovered. There was never an inquiry made into Linda’s death, despite frequent demands by her bother-in-law and son. It has been 29 years since Linda Condo was killed, and the case is still unsolved. Linda Condo was an Indigenous woman.
These women and their stories represent a larger issue that has been plaguing Canada since the 1960s; targeted and unresolved violence against Indigenous women. In 2013, the RCMP released a statement putting the number of missing and/or murdered Indigenous women at 1,181 across Canada from 1980 until 2013. Many indigenous families feel their cases are not adequately investigated due to the race of the victim, with an unrealistic amount ruled out as a suicide or accidental death, while other cases are simply left open with no explanation at all. There are women who have been missing since the 1970s who are still listed as missing because no body has ever been found. Due to the lack of investigation, Indigenous people feel their women have become a target for violent offenders because the perpetrators feel they will not be caught or held responsible for their actions.
In September of 2016, the government of Canada launched the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, an organization that works to discover the root of the violence facing Indigenous women across the country. This Inquiry holds meetings across the country to hear from indigenous communities about their experience with the lost women. Issues that were brought forth include bigoted treatment of Indigenous victims at local police stations, lack of safe transportation and patrol of the Highway of Tears and poor investigations overall from police to RCMP.
The Nation Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls has faced a great deal of scrutiny since its conception. Many are saying that victim’s families have not been properly consulted about the Inquiry and its goals. For example, the Inquiry is not able to reopen closed cases, even if the original conclusion is problematic, as many of the closed missing and murdered cases are, which is of great disappointment to many families. Members of the Inquiry also feel as though the government has put too many bureaucratic blockades, such as timing or lack of funds, for them to do their work effectively. The goal was to have the inquiry completed within two years for effective measures to be implemented beginning in 2018, however, this deadline seems unreasonable. In fact, there’s been a call for a complete overhaul on the Inquiry, with all commissioners being replaced.
In July of this year, one of the five commissioners of the Nation Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, Marilyn Poitras, stepped down after becoming increasingly frustrated and unhappy with the work of the Inquiry, claiming it was not living up to the task she intended to do. In her opinion, the Inquiry would quickly become one of the many reports on Indigenous communities that was intended to help Native people, but would have no concrete effect. Poitras is not the only one to lose faith in the Inquiry. Recent hearings have had poor turn out because the families of the victims do not want to be traumatized again after already suffering the tragedy of loss and the current atmosphere is just that; painful resurfacing of memories for no positive result. In the 18 months since the Inquiry began, there is no concrete evidence to prove that what happened to Fonassa, Ramona and Linda will not happen again to hundreds of Indigenous women in the future.