Cheryl McDonald recounts the story of her sister — Carleen McDonald — whose disappearance and death are still considered unsolved. (CTV Montreal) With one hand on the Bible, or clutching a traditional eagle feather, they take a solemn oath: we’re here to tell the truth – the whole truth, and nothing but.
For the next five days, dozens of First Nations community members will give their testimony and recount stories of loved ones lost to circumstance, or violence.
These are the first hearings to be held in Quebec as part of the Federal inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) since commissioners visited the Maliotenam Reserve on the Cote-Nord.
Since its launch in September 2016, the inquiry has amassed 700 separate stories about women who either disappeared or became victims of homicide; among them, mothers, daughters, sisters, and friends.
The inquiry is expecting to collect 600 more statements as it moves through the country.
Last week, an additional two years and $50 million were requested from the Canadian government to extend the commission’s mandate. Once testimonies are documented, the hope is that the Canadian government will develop, implement, and improve policies and increase accountability for systemic discrimination.
At the same time, the hearings provide an outlet to honour Indigenous lives and legacies, and promote healing.
“It’s nuanced everywhere we go: the realities, the discrimination, the difficulties and challenges, and different impacts of colonialization on individuals and communities throughout the country,” explained Qajaq Robinson, a lawyer and one of five MMIWG commissioners overseeing the inquiry.
Aboriginal women are five times more likely to die a violent death than other women: between 1997 and 2000, the homicide rate among Indigenous women was seven times higher than among non-Indigenous women.
Of the 582 cases examined by the Native Women’s Association of Canada, 67 per cent are murder cases – and nearly half of them unsolved.
The issue impacts women and girls across Aboriginal communities: First Nations, Metis, and Inuit.
This is one of their stories. Cheryl McDonald, Mohawk – speaking for sister Carleen McDonald "One day, this will all be worth it – talking my truth about losing my sister to violence. Physical, emotional – it played out everywhere. We met it at home. We probably heard it in our mother’s womb."
These are the details, as Cheryl McDonald gave them.
Carleen McDonald was a rambunctious spirit – defiant even. She hated dresses, was a “rough tomboy” who egged on her younger sister Cheryl – threatening to cut the hair off her dolls if she ever found them.
Young Carleen drove her parents crazy, but could make them laugh. If you asked her to climb down from the kitchen table at home in Malone, NY, she’d refuse. Cheryl says that once, her rough-and-tumble sister went around the house not knowing or caring that a fly sticker had become tangled in her thick, long hair.
The sisters would grow up, and apart. Carleen fell in love with an Army man and gave birth to her first child at 16.After years of a common-law union, in 1988, Carleen would separate from the “love of her life,” and move in with her parents and three children— at the time, all under the age of ten.The house at the end of the road was small, so Carleen stayed in the basement. It was bordered by a field, and lush woods.One day, as she did groceries with her mother, Carleen purchased a bottle of rum, and insisted the family go out on the river. She made some calls – one to her sister Cheryl, who was aware of some residual sadness lingering after the separation. They chatted, Carleen […]
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