Tuesday August 22, 2017

Families still full of doubts one year after MMIW inquiry

Matilda Wilson holds up a picture of her youngest child, Ramona, who disappeared in 1994. She wants justice for her daughter's unsolved murder.

Matilda Wilson holds up a picture of her youngest child, Ramona, who disappeared in 1994. She wants justice for her daughter's unsolved murder. (CBC)

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This past season, The Current hosted a series of moving public forums across the country examining the tragedy of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.  The project was launched in October in Prince George, B.C.

This episode features excerpts from community leaders, an RCMP officer and victims' family members.

​On June 11, 1994, Matilda Wilson said goodbye to her 16-year-old daughter Ramona as she left her home in Smithers, B.C., to meet her friends.

It was the last time Matilda would see her youngest child.

"It just felt like I couldn't go on anymore because that was the baby of our family," says Matilda.

Ramona's body wasn't found until ten months later. Her murder remains unsolved.

"Even now I lose my breath thinking of the mothers — that there is no trace of their daughters," says Matilda Wilson in The Current's virtual reality documentary that takes you into Matilda's home and along the notorious highway where Ramona's mother shares her story of personal loss and search for answers. 

VR The Current - Highway of Tears 2

The Current's virtual reality documentary follows the story of 16-year-old Ramona Wilson who disappeared along the Highway of Tears. Her mother Matilda Wilson continues to search for answers.

Ramona Wilson's case is just one of the murders and disappearances linked to what has become known as The Highway of Tears, the remote stretch of Highway 16 running between Prince George and Prince Rupert.

Members of her family now advocate for families who have lost a loved one.

"They are not just a statistic. They are people," says Matilda Wilson. 

'They are not just a statistic. They are people.' - Matilda Wilson

Ramona's sister, Brenda Wilson, says her younger sibling had so much going for her — school, playing on a baseball team and being a peer counsellor. 

missing-murdered-indigenous-women-protest

​There are many family members of missing and murdered Indigenous women who have criticized the RCMP for not acting fast enough to investigate the disappearance of their loved ones. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

"And most of all she was our baby sister," Brenda Wilson tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti on stage during a public forum at the Prince George Civic Centre last October

Brenda Wilson tells Tremonti her initial reaction to hearing about the public inquiry on missing and murdered Indigenous women was "tears of joy that this was actually happening."

But she does have doubts about the outcome.

"What if this doesn't happen? What if it's just something that they're saying to keep us quiet for now?" she says.

"I'm at a point where I'm skeptical about the whole thing."

It was almost a year ago — Sept. 1 — that Ottawa officially began its inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. 

Highway of Tears 18 missing or murdered

It was almost a year ago — Sept. 1 — that Ottawa officially began its inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. (Contributed/RCMP)

Wayne Clary with the RCMP's Project E-Pana — a unit launched in 2005 to investigate the disappearances and murders of 18 young women on the Highway of Tears — tells Tremonti in October how important it is that communities are involved and keep talking about this issue.

"It's the communities that are going to solve these crimes," Clary tells Tremonti. 

"We have turned over every stone we can. To a large degree, we're still carrying on — but crimes of this nature — it's the people out there in the public that are going to help us to lead us where we need to go."

'It's the communities that are going to solve these crimes.' - Wayne Clary

​There are many family members who have criticized the RCMP for not acting fast enough to investigate the disappearance of their loved ones. It's something Clary finds upsetting and refers to as "the old days."

"I'd like to say going forward that it will never happen again and nor should it," says Clary.

"Victims' families deserve that kind of attention and it's the right thing to do."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Liz Hoath, Josh Bloch and Kathleen Goldhar.