| Sheila North Wilson|
Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs
"I feel extremely honoured to be standing here in front of you and I was just telling Julie what an energy you have in this room and I congratulate you for the passion that you have in the work that you do and I am so honoured to be here with Ken Lewenza and Buzz Hargrove of course, everyone has heard of Buzz and it was the first name that I recognized when I came here and now to see all the people behind these great people. I see why and how they are strong and I am thankful to be standing here in front of you.
My name is Sheila North Wilson I am from the Bunibonibee Cree Nation and I bring greeting on behave of the first nations people of Manitoba. I work for the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and my boss if the grand chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and he sends greeting to you. He is out in his community right now after a long week in Ottawa rushing into the Parliament Buildings and telling the Harper government that we will not be second class citizens in our own country.
That brings me to the point of being here. I do a lot of work, voluntarily, on the missing and murdered indigenous women issue along with my work at the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs as a communications officer. Even when I am not working on it I think about it it has enveloped my life as my family will attest to. When I am with them I still talk about the issue because it is very important to me. I'll tell you some of the reasons why but before I do I just want to show you this necklace that I am wearing. Even if you were standing beside me you would hardly be able to see it. It is tiny, it is silver and it has a little diamond. When I was working to help with a rally and vigil for a missing woman named Tanya Nepinak the family was so grateful just to have a little bit of help and I didn't even do much. I was just helping to organize and get a permit for their rally getting them some donations, we all did at the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and they were so grateful. These are people that don't have a lot of money. They don't have the resources that many Canadians enjoy. They don't have even the basics all the time. They bought me this necklace and the poignant part about this is when they gave it to me I wore it and never took it off for a good two months. I took it off one day, put it in my pocket and I lost it. For two weeks it bothered me that I couldn't find this little tiny necklace. I then found the necklace in a store, it cost eighteen dollars. It is sterling silver and it has a tiny little diamond in it so bought it to replace the one that I had lost. I did that because to me it signified the family has lost their daughter and their daughter hasn't been found and just to keep reminding myself and to hope that they will find their daughter I bought this. I try not to take it off, I bought a stronger chain for it. It is not very expensive. But the metal is precious and so is the jewel. Just like our first nations women are in Canada.
Some of the names of these women that I am taking about are; Tanya Nepinak, Charisse Houle, Hillary Angel Wilson, Jennifer Catcheway, Fenessa Breuer, Claudette Osbourne and to say some of these names is very difficult sometimes because I see the families and the faces and when I talk to them and ask them about what happened in their situation it breaks my heart every-time. When I was working as a reporter, a journalist in Winnipeg and I when asked an aboriginal family what happened? What did the police say? Where were they last? The common theme has always been that police don't act. I am not going to knock down the police because they have a very hard job, they have a difficult job and work in tough circumstances as well but the common theme that I hear from families is that police do not act immediately. I think that is starting to change.
One example in Portage La Prairie which is just west of Winnipeg. I asked the mother of Jennifer Catcheway, when she went missing in August 2009 I believe. When she went missing her mother went to the police and the police said that she was probably on a drunken bender she'll be back in a week so don't worry about it. Two weeks later a non first nations woman, as equally important, Amber McFarlaine went missing. The last place she was seem was at a beer vendor. I had a chance to talk to her mom and I asked her the same question; "What did the police say?". Do you now what she said? She said oh they were so helpful, I couldn't do anything with out them. They acted immediately they got her face out her picture out. They were beautiful. What is the difference? Why would they say that to an aboriginal mother, that is hurting, a woman who raised her daughter in her home and was supposed to celebrate her eighteenth birthday and to another woman with a different skin colour. Why is that happening in Canada, one of the richest nations in the world. This shouldn't be. We are the first nations of tis country and we deserve respect. Our families deserve respect.
On the sheet that Julie White and her staff has passed out you'll see statistics on the back of some of the disparaging facts in this country. Aboriginal woman are more than eight times more likely to be killed by their intimate partner then non aboriginal women. Our men are hurting too. There are more that five hundred and eight two documented cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada. I rode here from Ottawa to Toronto in a vehicle that is covered in the faces of missing and murdered aboriginal women. Gladys Radek is the one that has the van and she drove it from Vancouver to Ottawa, she lives in Ottawa now. But everywhere we go people would look at her van. People would ask us questions when we would stop at a restaurant. Some total stranger came and gave me a tiny little feather and said thank you for the work that you do. It is people like that who are getting the word out, getting the message out and the fact that you are hearing about this issue is because of people like Gladys Radek that are doing this on a shoe string budget. She has no money, she has no income because of the social circumstances that many of us come from. I come here and thank you for supporting even in thought and even in prayer and financially to support our work that we do for the missing and murdered indigenous women.
How it really captured me was when I was going to high school in Winnipeg. I was fresh out of Bunibonibee Cree Nation, Oxford House and I didn't know anything about living in the city what so ever. I had no idea. I was sent to Winnipeg to go to school and get an education and when I came here I had to learn how to ride the bus myself, buy a bus pass and all those simple things that everyone knows how to do automatically. The first three times I rode a bus I showed my bus pass to every single person on the bus because I had no idea and I didn't want people to kick me off the bus. Another time I was standing at a bus stop waiting to go home, the bus didn't come because it was late. A man started talking to me on the street and he was saying; "it was not safe on the street, you should come with me, I just live on the next block, you are putting yourself in danger". I said it was OK I'd wait for the bus. Then he started saying; "I've got drinks, if you want drinks you cam]n come with me, I have a warm bed" He was really working hard to try and get me to go with him. But I knew it wasn't right and I didn't follow him. So I ran across the street, he followed me. I ran around the block twice and her followed me the whole time talking in my ear about how I needed to go with him. Now if I had been more vulnerable than I was and I didn't have the strength to say no, then I would have been in grave danger.
When I got back to the bus stop a car pulled up and said is that man bothering you? I said yes he is. He said get in. I jumped in. The music was loud and when he turned it down he said don't be alarmed but you are riding in a stolen car. He said I am just travelling through to Ontario and I need a place to sleep. I said where I live I don't own the house I am just a guest. He said that's OK I'll just stay in your room. I don't know this man from a hole in the wall and my relief turned to grief, the stupid thing about it I showed him where I lived and we pulled up right to the house I stayed at. He said if you won't let me in I need something for the ride I just gave you. As soon as he started to lean over I jumped out and ran into the house and I didn't come out for at least a week because I was so frightened.
This was my experience in the city. I had no idea about being street smart or anything like that. Another time when I was leaving high school a friend of mine took me to a house. There were mattresses all over every single room, even the kitchen. There were sheets covering the windows. There were bongs and paraphernalia to smoke up. A group of men, immigrants that were in there, Asian men. I learned later on that this was an Asian gang where my friend took me to. In there were other native girls. Native girls and Asian men, older men. I didn't feel comfortable so I left. When I came back to pick up my friend the police were there so I couldn't connect with her so I went home.
Fast forward to my journalism career. I started talking to missing and murdered families and even some victims and they started talking about when they were teenagers they would go to these houses that were occupied by gangs, all mattresses and sheets on the windows. That's where they came from and I thought that I could have been one of those girls and could have been victimized by these men and I could have been one of these missing or murdered indigenous women we hear about. And for that I was eternally grateful and I felt obligated to get out the word that not everyone got out. Not everyone had the sense and the wits and the courage to leave. There would have been more victims, there could be more victims if it wasn't for the strength that we had. Consider the residential school system, how many of our young people and our ancestors have died and if was not for the strength of our people we would all be eliminated we wouldn't be here. But we are here and we want to fight for the people that can't fight for themselves and their families.
Thank you so much and it is women from families like that, that we need Steven Harper and the governments like that to call for a national public inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women. And I call on your support to support the families of our missing and murdered indigenous women across Canada. thank you very much."