Inside the Splatsin arbor in Enderby, located just off Highway 97A, four Splatsin First Nation members perform a prayer circle.
They surround a fire, kneeling on blankets. They are joined by Splatsin chief Wayne Christian Thursday, day three of the prayer circle which is being held to honour and remember the murdered or missing aboriginal women and men in Canada.
“People offer prayers to family and people who need support, we sing songs,” said Christian prior to joining the circle. “It’s just a process of spiritual help to get closure to what’s going on.”
The RCMP released a report in the spring highlighting 1,181 cases involving aboriginal women since 1980. Their findings showed aboriginal women made up 4.3 per cent of the Canadian population, but accounted for 16 per cent of female homicides, and 11.3 per cent of missing women.
For Christian and the Splatsin band, the number hits close to home. One staff member’s sister was a murder victim in a case in north central B.C. where the alleged killer is being tried in Prince George.
“How do we bring to the public mind this issue?” asked Christian. “There are literally thousands of not only women but men who have gone missing over the years, but there has been no formal response to that. People keep putting it aside. Here in this community we support our staff member whose sister was a victim of this.”
As Christian said, it’s not just aboriginal women who vanish without a trace or who are murdered, but men as well. He points to a band member who died under mysterious circumstances.
On Nov. 9, 2012, police and ambulance were dispatched to a report on the side of Highway 97A and Grandview Bench Road.
The victim was identified as John Thomas, 59. Police said Thomas’ injuries were consistent with him being struck by a larger vehicle, but nobody ever came forward to say they were driving the vehicle that struck Thomas.
Police asked for any new leads on the case exactly one year after Thomas’ death.
Was he struck by a vehicle? Or was foul play involved?
“There are no answers and it’s been more than two years,” said Christian. “There’s been no closure on that, and there are many files like that.”
There has been no closure for Thomas’ family, or the Splatsin band, in connection with the case. It’s different for the staff member. They lost a sister but her body was found and the man accused of killing her is on trial.
“Closure for the families, that’s first and foremost,” said Christian. “That’s the most difficult part, when you lose a loved one to those kind of circumstances.”
Premiers have been calling for a roundtable on the missing and murdered aboriginal women, and there have also been calls nationally for an inquiry.
Christian said such an inquiry would be a good start, but thinks a truth and reconciliation process would be better.
“We need to open up a public process so people can say what they need to say in a public way,” he said. “Families of victims have no voice in this process. They need to be heard, know they’re being heard and the public needs to hear about the pain and suffering they’re going through.
“A truth and reconciliation process would be much more beneficial to families and the public at large.”