Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Indifference to slain, missing women is immoral

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There are an estimated 70 slain and missing Manitoba aboriginal women.Many of their names should be familiar to you.

Marie Banks disappeared July 26, 1983. Her body was found August 15, 1983. The 18-year-old had been strangled.

Fonessa Bruyere was 17 when she vanished August 8, 2007. Her body was found 22 days later.

Felicia Solomon was 16 when she disappeared March 25, 2003. Some of her body parts were found in the Red River on June 21, 2003.

These are just three of the women known to be killed. Look at their ages. They're still shy of adulthood.

The list of missing women includes Sunshine Wood, Claudette Osborne, Jennifer Catcheway, Danita Big Eagle and Cherisse Houle. Their average age is 18.

Some of the women were known to be in the sex trade. Some weren't. It shouldn't matter, any more than it should matter that they were aboriginal.

But it does, both in how these women are viewed and in the amount of attention their stories garnered. If you're an aboriginal sex-trade worker (or are perceived to be) there will always be people who consider you disposable.

That's how they get away with it.

The list of the dead and missing women has several columns. Birth date. Age of disappearance. Date missing. Last seen. Home reserve or community.

But there's one column I find particularly heart-rending.

It lists the number of children left behind. Many of these women were mothers. Some were pregnant at the time of their slayings or disappearances.

They were daughters. They were sisters and friends. Their deaths are mourned. They were more than whatever label people slapped on them.

In Sunday's Free Press, Ottawa reporter Mia Rabson wrote a detailed account of some of the women and their lives.

She did what good reporters do, turning the stories of slain and missing women into the narrative of individual lives.

We learned about Kelly and Glenda Morisseau, an aunt and niece who are among an estimated 520 aboriginal women missing and slain in Canada over the past four decades.

Rabson detailed the conditions that the women share: poverty, domestic abuse, drug addiction and alcoholism and broken families.

To that we can add public indifference.

Rabson's article earned a number of reader comments. Most expressed dismay at the information revealed. Some, like all of us writing about this issue, were left wondering what the answers are.

And then there was this:

"Can the tragic cycle for aboriginal women be broken? Not until they want it to be. How many of them were hardcore drug users? You hang around bad people bad stuff happens. No sympathy from me."

Blaming the victim erects an impenetrable wall between us and them, between knowledge and prejudice. If these women can be reduced to caricatures of sex-trade workers and drug addicts, it allows the judgmental to move into finger-pointing and, finally, indifference.

Contrast that with a comment left on a Facebook tribute page to Claudette Osborne: "You are never far from my thoughts and we will not give up until you are found and brought home to us no matter how long it takes.

"We will continue to raise awareness and push the government and police to take action," writes a family member.

"There is work being done but there is so much more that needs to be done. I love you and miss you and everything that we do, we do for you because we love you and wouldn't want any other family to have to go through this pain of wondering where a loved one is."

When you lose someone you love, you don't focus on the poor choices they may have made.

You remember their strengths, their humour and their love for you. You think of their children.

Five-hundred-twenty missing and slain women.

It is impossible to be indifferent and be a moral person.

lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 6, 2009 A6

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About Lindor Reynolds

National Newspaper Award winner Lindor Reynolds began work at the Free Press as a 17-year-old proofreader. It was a rough introduction to the news business.

Many years later, armed with a university education and a portfolio of published work, she was hired as a Free Press columnist. During her 20-plus years on the job she has written for every section in the paper, with the exception of Business. She’ll get around to them some day.

Lindor has received considerable recognition for her writing. Her awards include the Will Rogers Humanitarian Award, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ general interest award and the North American Travel Journalists Association top prize.
Her work on Internet luring led to an amendment to the Criminal Code of Canada and her coverage of the child welfare system prompted a change to Manitoba Child and Family Services Act to make the safety of children paramount.

She has earned three citations of merit for the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism and has been awarded a Distinguished Alumni commendation from the University of Winnipeg. Lindor was also named a YMCA/YWCA  Woman of Distinction.

She is married with four daughters. If her house was on fire and the kids and dog were safe, she’d grab her passport.
 
lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

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