Advocate for missing and murdered Indigenous people wants national alert system for Canada
Washington state brought in a statewide alert system earlier this year
Despite the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, a disproportionate number of Indigenous people continue to go missing to this day.
Stephanie Harpe, a member of Fort McKay First Nation, 54 kilometres north of Fort McMurray, Alta., believes a national alert system is needed for when Indigenous men, women, boys and girls go missing or are murdered.
"I would like to see an alert system created, where our missing children or missing people are immediately connected to all resources, to all Canadians," Harpe told CBC's Edmonton AM on Thursday.
Harpe was inspired by Washington state recently bringing in the United States' first statewide alert system for missing Indigenous people.
"Now that they passed it there, I'm making as much noise as I can to get that here in Canada," she said.
The alert system in Washington state will work like an Amber Alert, notifying law enforcement when there's a report of a missing Indigenous person. It will also place messages on highway reader boards and on the radio and social media, and in news media.
Harpe has been an advocate for missing and murdered Indigenous people; she has survived an attempt on her life, and her mother was murdered in 1999. She said she never received the help she needed.
"We, as Indigenous people, are still not treated the same," she said.
Indigenous people collectively make up one of the smaller population groups in the country, at 4.9 per cent, according to the 2016 census, but are far more likely than other Canadians to become victims of homicide. According to Statistics Canada, in 2020, the rate of homicide for Indigenous people was seven times higher than for non-Indigenous people.
The Saskatchewan Association of Chiefs of Police is one of a few policing bodies that report statistics on missing persons. Its latest data indicates that almost 45 per cent of people who vanished between 1940 and 2020 were Indigenous, despite representing just over 16 per cent of the population in a 2016 census.
Harpe said Indigenous people deserve the same attention, drive and justice that other communities in the country get when they go missing or are murdered.
"We just want what everyone else would get," she said.
For the time being, Harpe is involved with Aboriginal Alert, a website that was created by an Alberta Indigenous consulting group Four Winds seven years ago.
The site tracks missing people across Canada. It gives information on the ages, gender, location and status of missing people and provides a photograph as well. Some profiles have one or two pieces of information missing.
The list is also categorized by province and by new and ongoing cases.
Nicole Martel, a researcher with Aboriginal Alert, said the group — mostly consisting of volunteers — gathers information on missing individuals from news stories and social media.
"It's just the really grassroots stuff right now," she told CBC on Friday.
She said the organization is working with police in Manitoba, who are helping design an alert, much like an Amber Alert, for missing Indigenous people.
Martel said they are still figuring out criteria for the alert for missing and murdered Indigenous people.
"That's the biggest question that everybody has," she said.
With files from The Canadian Press