Saunders murder puts focus on missing aboriginal women

Feb 27, 2014 | News




Loretta Saunders was last seen alive on Feb. 13. Photo courtesy: Facebook

By Julienne Bay

The homicide of Loretta Saunders is drawing attention to the issue of missing aboriginal women in Canada – yet again.

Saunders was an Inuk woman working on her thesis about missing and murdered aboriginal women at Halifax’s Saint Mary’s University. Her body was found Wednesday afternoon, 13 days after she went missing in Halifax.

Victoria Henneberry, 28, and Blake Leggette, 25 have been charged with first degree murder in Saunders case.

The two had sublet Saunders’s apartment and she disappeared after reportedly going to see them about rent that was owing.

Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association said Saunders’s death should prompt a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal in Canada.

Just a few weeks ago, Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised $1.25 billion over three years for First Nation education funding starting in 2016. Aboriginal women’s issue was not mentioned.

Although the federal budget for 2014 included funding to reduce violence against aboriginal women and girls, it did not include a promise of national inquiry.

Bernice Cyr, executive director of the Native Women’s Transition Centre in Winnipeg, said it’s not unusual for the government to avoid issues surrounding aboriginal women.

“People still view aboriginal women as risk and people don’t want to talk about it,” she said. “It’s an ugly subject.”

Cyr said the issue is deeper than just a national inquiry and there has to be a preventive measure.

“Once a woman can keep herself out of violence, the likeliness of her being abducted or murdered drops significantly,” said Cyr.

“There really hasn’t been a strong initiative in prevention [although] we certainly have police task force take up the call to investigate cold case files,” she told Humber News.

“The fact is, we’re very powerless in preventing aboriginal women from being abducted or murdered.”

Lory Clark of Fort Nelson Women’s Shelter in B.C.  says with such cases as Saunders’ homicide, things may change a “little bit at a time”.

“Back in the day, it was never heard of, but now, a lot of us women, we’re standing up and raising awareness,” said Clark, whose agency is owned by the Northern Rockies Aboriginal Women Society.