By Vincent McDermott
The last time Shelly Dene saw her sister, Candice L’hommecourt, she asked for a hug.
It was the weekend of May 11, 2013, and Dene was wishing her sister’s daughter a happy first birthday.
“The last time we talked she showed how much she loved her family,” said L’hommecourt, choking back tears. “I never saw her again after that weekend.”
In November, Dene was officially reported missing. She was last seen in Edmonton that August. Dene was 25 at the time.
“I just want to know where she is.”
Edmonton police say unconfirmed information suggests Dene was travelling with an Aboriginal male, possibly in a red truck. They have asked Yukon RCMP for help, but are remaining tight-lipped on the Yukon connection.
On Saturday, more than 60 First Nations, Metis’ and supporters marched down Franklin Ave. from Borealis Park to Keyano College, protesting the federal government’s refusal to launch an inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women.
Organized by L’hommecourt, the protest began with a smudging ceremony and speeches from local chiefs.
“The prime minister would rather spend spend money on looking for an expedition lost a hundred years ago,” said Chief Steve Courtoreille of the Mikisew Cree First Nation.
Shortly after Prime Minister Stephen Harper rejected calls for an inquiry, he announced a naval expedition would soon travel through the Northwest Passage to search for the doomed 1845 Franklin Expedition, which was tasked with mapping a shipping route to Asia, and also reinforcing Canada’s arctic claims.
Harper’s announcements caused Courtoreille to declare the prime minister was “on the wrong side of history” last Wednesday.
“Instead of lashing out in anger, say a prayer for him. Prayers are very powerful. Pray he changes his mind and does the right thing,” said Courtoreille. “It’s up to us as First Nations people and at the grassroots to put the pressure on the prime minister.”
Dene’s grandmother lives in Fort Chipewyan and L’hommecourt is from Fort McMurray. She is the latest woman with a local connection to be reported missing.
Fort Chipewyan is still reeling from the unsolved murder of Amber Tuccaro. Tuccaro disappeared in 2010, but her remains were discovered in 2012 near Leduc. Her killer has not been found.
“There is already a lot of mistrust from First Nations towards the Harper government,” said Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation. “Even if Harper does the right thing eventually, a lot of First Nations will never forgive him because of this delay.”
An RCMP report released in May found 1,017 aboriginal women were homicide victims between 1980 and 2012. Approximately 88% of those murders were solved.
It also found 186 disappearances logged in police departments across the country, warning investigators that foul play should be suspected in the majority of those cases.
The report found 16% of female homicide victims were aboriginal, even though aboriginal women compose 4% of the overall female population.
Critics of an inquiry say this documented information would render an inquiry redundant. However, Courtoreille says an inquiry would provide recent information on socioeconomic trends, such as poverty, unemployment, substance abuse and health problems. It would also investigate the quality of work done by police in investigations.
“If they were that well documented, we would have started using that data to develop solutions,” said Melanie Omeniho, president of the Women of the Metis Nation.
“We obviously have not done a good job at it. The number of women thrown to the side in Canada accounts for that.”