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Breaking the silence
Panel discusses missing and murdered indigenous women ahead of national roundtable in Ottawa

Elaine Anselmi
Northern News Services
Published Monday, February 2, 2015

Panelists and audience members were brought to tears discussing missing and murdered indigenous women in the North at the Denendeh Health Symposium Jan. 29.

NNSL photo/graphic

Pauline Roche, president of the Native Women's Society of NWT, left, speaks during a panel discussion on missing and murdered indigenous women as Terry Villeneuve, chair of the Assembly of First Nation's Women's Council, listens during a Denendeh Health Symposium in Yellowknife Jan. 29. - Elaine Anselmi/NNSL photo

"I lost my sister in 1987. She was murdered. She was only 16 years old," said Mabel Bohnet, sister of a murdered Behchoko woman.

She then addressed the panel asking for support, not only for victims of violence, but those who are close to them.

She went on to explain that her sister's face was unrecognizable due to the damage done by her attacker, and she was identified only by a birthmark.

Two young couples found her body and, while they were happy and successful at the time, Bohnet said they went on to struggle with substance abuse, and instability in their lives.

"What kind of help is out there for people like them?" she asked.

With so many stories like Bohnet's and so many issues to explore in regards to violence against indigenous women, Terry Villeneuve is hopeful an upcoming national roundtable on missing and murdered indigenous women will finally see measurable results.

"It's such a difficult issue, it's such an emotional issue and a lot of the time we feel that we're just talking to the walls; nobody is listening," said Villeneuve, who is chair of the Assembly of First Nation's Women's Council.

"I'm happy something is going to be going on, that this event will take place instead of just silence from everybody," said Villeneuve.

A national roundtable on the issue was originally proposed for Yellowknife, but due to logistical challenges will now be hosted in Ottawa on Feb. 27, Megan Holsapple, media liaison for the premier confirmed.

In October, Premier Bob McLeod announced his support for a national inquiry on missing and murdered indigenous women and that Yellowknife would host a roundtable discussion on the issue following a meeting of all territorial and provincial aboriginal affairs ministers, as well as leaders from five national aboriginal organizations, in Nova Scotia.

"Our expectation is that we'll have all of the provincial and territorial ministers, also we would have national aboriginal leadership, also federal ministers with responsibilities for aboriginal people," McLeod said at that time.

Villeneuve, who also attended those meetings, is just happy movement is being made on the issue.

"First of all, we said we would host a roundtable session here in Yellowknife, in the hope there would be a national one," she said.

"Well, the national one is happening. So, we're glad that something is being done instead of nothing at all, which was the case for so long."

The AFN will be a large player in the roundtable, and Villeneuve said the Women's Council would be presenting on missing and murdered women, safety for women and girls and community policing.

"In the last few years, finally I think we're gaining support and that's why we said, 'Let's concentrate on this while the iron is hot,'" said Villeneuve.

"I'm really hoping there will be an action plan and an actual action after this."

Pauline Roche, president of the Native Women's Society of NWT, also spoke during the panel discussion at the Explorer Hotel about the importance of supporting the GNWT in calling for a national inquiry.

RCMP G Division Superintendent Roy Smith and Insp. John Bennett also sat on the panel and provided statistics on missing and murdered people in the territory, and on police response and protocol in dealing with these cases.

Since 1960, Bennett said 14 females have gone missing in the NWT, eight of them aboriginal.

Of those eight cases, three remain under investigation, with foul play suspected.

Between 2007 and 2014, 20 victims of homicide have been identified, of which eight were aboriginal women, said Bennett.

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