New app offers support for families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls
Last week, commissioners from the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada called for the re-opening of existing cold cases after ongoing pleas from family members demanding to know why investigations into their loved ones' disappearances were halted.
It's a call to action many Indigenous families who have lost women close to them have been issuing, long before the inquiry even began.
At the heart of the inquiry, which has faced criticism for its processes and perceived lack of effectiveness, is a mandate to hear directly from the families of the missing and murdered, and in the process offering them some sense of control.
Now a new app aims to help alleviate the sense of helplessness many of the families have told the inquiry they feel even years after their loved one first went missing.
The team behind the APTN television series Taken, which turns the spotlight on cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, have developed an interactive app that is part memorial and part toolkit, designed to raise awareness of the issue while helping those affected cope with their loss.
"We thought, what if we could use current technology to add some level of support to the families?" explains Taken co-creator and writer Rebecca Gibson. "And we asked the families across the country, many of the people that we worked with on this series, 'If you could have the funding to do an app, what would that look like?'
"And it was incredible to hear from them almost universally that what they would like is some way to keep and store the information about their loved one's case and that they would love to have resources available," she says.
"So that's how we developed this app, in collaboration with the families and with law enforcement and the cooperation of community groups across the country."
Input from those affected
"When my sister went missing, there was nothing like this out there," she notes. "So this was incredible to have."
Smith was among those who helped develop the app, and says the involvement of those directly affected was key.
"I believe that family is the expert in this area, because they're the ones that are living and breathing and they know exactly what should have been there when their loved one went missing or was murdered," she says.
The Taken Knowledge Keeper app allows users to create a photo album to remember their loved one, offers resources to help conduct a search if someone goes missing, and provides a missing-person action plan toolkit.
Winnipeg-based production company Eagle Vision, which produces Taken, collaborated with interactive digital media service Tactica Interactive to create the app, which launched in September and is available for free from Apple's app store.
"Bernadette developed a toolkit with some other loved ones of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls to help families have something if their loved one went missing," Gibson explains. "And so some of the resources include self-care and knowing what you need to do if you're searching all day."
The app, which was developed in partnership with the University of Manitoba, aims to offer concrete steps after hearing from victims' families and advocacy groups about what might be helpful to them.
"You're constantly left wondering if you're ever going to get answers," Smith says. "But I think one thing that really helps our family is that we've been able to help others, [and] speak on behalf of our loved one to make sure that she has a voice, and [also] continue to push for better services and support."
Gibson says working on Taken (now in its second season) and the app has deeply affected her while hearing the stories of many across the country who have lost Indigenous women close to them. She hopes the app can build on the series' objective to ensure those women are never forgotten.
"When we started to work on this app, the inquiry was quite new and we've been working on this show for many years even prior to airing," she says. "We feel that there are some wounds being opened in a fresh way and ... we hope very much that this app will support the empowerment of families who have... been going through the struggle of losing someone they love."
"We were really seeing a lot of frustration," she continues, "but we always always feel hope no matter what."
For the full interview with Rebecca Gibson and Bernadette Smith, download our podcast or click the 'Listen' button at the top of this page.