Saskatoon Group talk help for families of Missing and Murdered Aboriginal women

by CBC News (photo credit Kathy Fitzpatrick/CBC)

Last night in Saskatoon people brainstormed ideas for helping the families of murdered and missing aboriginal women.

They packed the hall at Station 20 West in the city's core.  About 150 people turned out, both aboriginal and non-aboriginal.

The gathering was organized by social workers and social work students — who formed a social justice committee last summer.

"We thought it was really relevant for us to discuss issues that were pertinent to Saskatoon. So missing and murdered Indigenous women has been a hot topic recently," said Jessica Fisher, the committee's student co-chair.

One of the most dramatic moments came when an impassioned Monica Goulet, one of the panellists, stood to speak.

"When we talk about these issues, these are not some issue in a foreign land," Goulet said. "This is here in our community. This is right outside these doors. This is in urban centres. This is in the rural centres. This is on the snowmobile trails of northern Saskatchewan. These are huge issues, and we cannot afford to sit back and do nothing."

Missing person police rewritten

Goulet, who is an Aboriginal Relations Consultant with the Saskatoon Police, told the gathering that the missing person policy has been completely rewritten.

"We take 1600 missing person reports a year. Many involve young girls running from care or foster homes, some as many as 40 times," Goulet explained. "There'll be no waiting 24 hours. We take reports immediately."

She urged everyone to report someone gone missing as soon as possible.

"The sooner that we at the police service can start the investigation, the better chance we have to find that person," Goulet said.

Dorothea Swiftwolf, Missing Persons Liaison with the Saskatoon Police, talked about the "ambiguous loss" felt by families of a missing loved one, which is different than the grief that follows a death. Swiftwolf said she is trying to find a therapist who can help people deal with their sense of ambiguous loss.

Guarding against predators

There were more ideas raised about how to stop the growing number of missing and murdered women, such as teaching young people how to guard against predators.

There was also talk about how to counteract messages that indoctrinate young boys to devalue women. At one point, elder Maria Linklater humourously upbraided someone wearing a T-shirt with a sexist slogan.

After the panel presentation and question and answer session, participants were invited to linger to talk among themselves — and perhaps plan follow-up action. Fisher said she hopes people will start collaborating.