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Canada needs to recognize human rights crisis revealed by final MMIWG inquiry, survivor says

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April Eve Wiberg. (Photo by Brandi Morin) Edmonton Surviving beyond the age of 30, having a career and family were the life goals that April Eve Wiberg held onto in her younger years. She was determined not to let the traumas of her past kill her. “I felt like […]


April Eve Wiberg. (Photo by Brandi Morin) Edmonton

Surviving beyond the age of 30, having a career and family were the life goals that April Eve Wiberg held onto in her younger years. She was determined not to let the traumas of her past kill her.

“I felt like there was no escape,” Wiberg said, remembering growing up Indigenous in rural Saskatchewan. That involved experiencing family breakdown, poverty, abuse and neglect at home.

Raised by her Caucasian father and abandoned by her First Nations mother, who was a residential school survivor, times were tough.

Even at school, Wiberg said she and her sister were singled out and taunted for being Indigenous.

Given the adversity stacked against her, Wiberg is thankful for not having become a statistic. Now, not a day goes by when she isn’t reminded of where she could’ve ended up, either missing or dead.

“I have hope …” she explained in response to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) set to be released in Ottawa on Monday.

The unprecedented, $92-million inquiry took two and a half years. Commissioners travelled across Canada gathering testimony from more than 2,000 families, loved ones and survivors. That work included hearings in Edmonton in November 2017.

Indigenous women account for 10 per cent of all homicide victims in the country, according to the Native Women’s Association of Canada, yet represent just three per cent of the female population.

Elders light a qulliq at a public hearing for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, in Edmonton on Nov. 7, 2017.

Rock bottom

Wiberg, 38 is a survivor. She says she’s been in danger more times than she can count. After running away from home at age 16 to find her mother in Edmonton, it wasn’t long before she was homeless. Soon, the vulnerable teen was targeted for sexual exploitation. The discord, uncertainty and violence of street life was something she was familiar with, but never got used to.

Her memories are vivid of a time when an older man, strung out on crack for days, threatened to hang her from a ceiling in a dark room.

“I started slowly inching my way to the door and I bolted out. But no one knew where I was,” she said.

She grew distrustful of the RCMP, whom she said showed lack of compassion to her as a lost youngster on the street. The police have come under intense scrutiny by commissioners for denying access to some MMIWG records to help with the inquiry.

In her mid-20s Wiberg hit rock bottom. Experiencing seizures from a cocaine overdose shook her up enough to get sober and find a way to heal.

It was creating a new life from the ground up and getting involved with community that saved her, she said. Her community was the inner city and she began volunteering to help others who were struggling.

‘This is a human rights crisis’

After realizing her dream of living past the age of 30, becoming a mother and having a career, Wiberg established the Stolen Sisters Awareness Walk in Edmonton in 2007, which is now known as the Stolen Sisters and Brothers Awareness Walk.

The inquiry is something she and other advocates have been tirelessly urging the federal government to undertake for decades. To Wiberg, the MMIWG crisis comes down to a defining moment in Canadian history — first contact.

“If you dig down to its root, it’s Canada’s violent, colonial past with Indigenous people and we are targeted to this day,” she said.

“I know if it was non-Indigenous people that this was happening to, that we would be demanding answers; we would be helping them. Our ancestors would’ve never just stood there. We helped the newcomers to survive … and we can’t do this alone now. This is a human-rights crisis that affects all of Canada.”

When she thinks about the final report and the relief of Canada finally tackling the issue, she’s praying that all Canadians will come together to help.

Wiberg believes it’s time to breathe life into the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action, to take the inquiry recommendations seriously and for justice for Indigenous Peoples in Canada.

“Canada is known as a leader of human rights, but it’s heartbreaking that this is happening here. People should care, because these MMIWG are members of our community and they were once nurtured and loved, just like anyone else.”

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