Chereen Patrick admits it is difficult for her to attend rallies that bring together people affected by violence against Indigenous women, but a Sept. 14 gathering in Prince George demanding the federal government call a public inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women was too important to miss.
“I feel that I am in that category of being an Aboriginal young woman,” said Patrick, who attended the Am I Next (AIN) rally outside the Prince George law courts along with around 50 other concerned participants. “It’s scary in a sense that this has become a norm in society and that no real actions have been made to address all the missing indigenous [or] just missing women.”
Patrick, a community health representative for the Burns Lake Band, knows the pain of losing someone firsthand to the Highway of Tears. Her cousin, 16-year-old Ramona Wilson, disappeared in 1994 from her hometown of Smithers. She was found dead 10 months later and her killer has yet to be brought to justice for the crime.
Ramona is one of the 1181 police recorded incidents of murdered or missing Aboriginal women across all police jurisdictions in Canada between 1980 and 2012 that was documented in a recent RCMP-led study into the occurrences. An online petition created by Holly Jarrett, whose 26-year-old cousin Loretta Saunders was found murdered in New Brunswick this past February, that demands the federal government call a public inquiry into the hundreds of cases of missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada has gained 324,077 supporters at its www.change.org site since March, but the government continues to refuse to call an inquiry.
To put more pressure on national leaders Jarrett started the Am I Next online social media campaign earlier this month. Am I Next, whose acronym is a term of endearment in Inuktitut, asks supporters to take selfies of themselves with a sign reading “Am I Next?” and post the pictures on Jarrett’s public Facebook site or her twitter account at @HollyForChange.
Patrick held one of these signs outside the Prince George law courts along with the many other friends and family of victims of violence against women. Her husband Ron and young boys Kastin, 7, and Ryder, 15 months, accompanied her to provide support.
“It’s always hard for me to go to these because it just really brings the reality that each [murdered or missing] woman could have been a mother, a daughter, a niece [or] a granddaughter,” said Patrick. “They were somebody’s treasure in their life [who] was their pride and joy. To humanize that [at a rally] and have that reality touch on what it’s like to have someone you love and treasure to all of a sudden be gone or missing without justice [or] some closure is a very uneasy feeling.”
Patrick said her job at the band office located alongside Hwy. 16 reminds her everyday of the many lives it has taken. She said the recent conviction of Fort St. James serial killer Cody Legebokoff of four counts of murder against women helps bring her some hope that there will be justice for the victims, but also fills her with envy of the families who have closure to the murder of their loved ones.
Without any justice for the murder of her cousin Ramona, Patrick attends these rallies to help her heal and to stand up and speak for the women who aren’t there. She said the support the women receive from each other helps them know they are not suffering alone.
“One of the things that we did that was really awesome was we were drumming and we sang the woman’s warrior song,” she said. “I thought it was really powerful and to be at that building then was awesome.”
On Oct. 4 Patrick is hosting a Sisters in Spirit rally in Burns Lake to raise awareness about the plight of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and to bring families together who have been affected by these incidents to support each other. She said the details of the rally are still being planned out, but the goal would be to help people understand what is really happening on the highway that runs right through our village.