Saturday, August 23, 2014
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First Nation shines spotlight on violence against women

By Jonathan Charlton, The StarPhoenix

A vicious attack against Marlene Bird in Prince Albert has spurred her home community, Montreal Lake Cree Nation, to keep the issue of violence against women in the public eye.

When events like this happen, they’re in the news for a while and then disappear, Chief Edward Henderson said.

In August, the First Nation intends to start a fundraising campaign to establish an advocacy group, the Foundation for Aboriginal Women of Canada. Then, in November, it plans to co-host the first Canadian Indigenous Women Conference, which Henderson hopes will have a global reach in years to come.

The idea behind the conference and the foundation is to be proactive, rather than reactive, Henderson said.

“We’re inviting people to come and join us and get it organized. We haven’t worked out all the details yet; I know we’ve got some calls from other organizations that want to get involved, see how we can combine with all the other organizations (on the) nationwide issue of violence against First Nations women.”

The First Nation revealed its plans Wednesday, as dozens of people took part in a walk through downtown Saskatoon to honour Bird and raise awareness of missing and murdered aboriginal women.

Bird was the victim of a brutal attack on June 1. She required facial reconstruction and was burned so badly in the assault that doctors had to amputate both her legs. She is recovering in an Edmonton hospital and is expected to be transferred to a Saskatoon hospital for further treatment.

Organizers of Wednesday’s walk said they also hoped to raise money to help cover the costs of Bird’s recovery.

Colleen Whitedeer of Saskatoon brought her children along to show them how important the issue is.

“I’m here because I’m very passionate about these issues,” she said.

“There are so many negative stereotypes about aboriginal women. I was disturbed by what happened in Prince Albert, the fact (Marlene Bird) was aboriginal. When is this discrimination going to stop?”

Leslie Black, 29, has been charged with attempted murder and aggravated sexual assault in connection with the attack. He is scheduled to appear again July 16 in Prince Albert provincial court.

Black and Bird were acquainted with each other, according to Prince Albert police.

John Noon, originally from Thunderchild First Nation, led the march with an honour song. He said he can’t believe an assault like the one committed against Bird could happen, especially so close to home.

Events like Wednesday’s walk bring awareness, not just to the aboriginal community, but to the broader community as well, he said.

“There are whole different (types) of demographics here, it’s great. It’s good to see.”

Donna Brooks, executive director of the Prince Albert YWCA, knows Bird as a client. The walk is important because it shows support, she said.

“It shows we will not tolerate this in our community, that Marlene is not just another statistic, and that we do need to have a public inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women in our province and in Canada.”

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