The American Indian Movement is leveraging its reputation as a militant aboriginal rights movement in an effort to track five missing Manitoba women.
At a press conference Thursday, local members of the American-based AIM identified Tanya Jane Nepinak, Sunshine Wood, Claudette Osborne, Mildred Flett and Jennifer Catchaway as the five women they want to focus on first.
Local AIM members believe they can do what authorities have not been able to do: Find the women or their remains, by unlocking sources of information closed off to police.
The group believes its history as a militant organization at the centre of the Wounded Knee resistance in South Dakota where two FBI agents were killed in the 1970s might work in their favour. Among grassroots aboriginal people who are frustrated with authorities or who have a criminal history, AIM’s past militancy and its association this winter with a rail blockade near Portage la Prairie are points in its favour.
Organizers expect the best information on the missing women might come from marginalized sources unlikely to call police, such as inmates in federal and provincial corrections facilities, street people and others with links to criminal gangs.
For years, AIM in Canada has been led by former Roseau River Chief Terry Nelson, who attended Thursday's press conference but turned the microphone over to younger members yesterday.
"We’re asking for tips from the public. If anyone in the community has any tips, we’d like to hear about it," said Morris St. Croix, one of two local AIM leaders who stepped forward in public as AIM members for the first time Thursday.
"We won’t judge you. I’m not going out there trying to incriminate anyone. I’m not a police officer. That’s not my job. These women need to be found and their families need closure."
"I can see how people are scared to step forward, if you have warrants against you or if people don’t take you seriously," said the second AIM leader, Jackie Traverse, a Winnipeg visual artist.
The group released the address of a postal box and some frank tips to ensure anonymity: "Make sure your letter is mailed, do not put fingerprints, lick the stamps or seal the letter with saliva if you want to stay anonymous."
About 20 supporters turned out for Thursday's event, held at Thunderbird House on Main Street in Winnipeg. Acting as community support group, the local AIM leaders said they hope to work collaboratively with police, while still protecting their sources from the authorities.
Just how they will manage that balance, they don’t know yet, reporters were told.
"We want to establish a place where people can come forward and tell us that they do know," Traverse said. "We will work with them."
Letters can be mailed to P.O. Box 130, AIM Manitoba, "No More Stolen Sisters," Winnipeg, MB, R3C 3Z8. To give info in person, tipsters can go to Unit 13B, 30-360 Main Street.