Manitobans commemorate the life of Helen Betty Osborne, 50 years after her murder
'It's still happening right now. And the fact that it's 50 years later, that's traumatizing,' organizer says
More than 200 people came from all over Manitoba to honour the life and legacy of a Cree woman who was targeted and brutally killed 50 years ago.
Family, friends, advocates and politicians gathered in The Pas, Man. to visit the site of the former residential school where Helen Betty Osborne attended, walk to the site where her body was discovered and pray for her.
In the early morning hours of Nov. 13, 1971, Osborne, the 19-year-old from Kinosao Sipi Cree Nation was abducted and killed while she was walking after a night out in the northern town with friends.
It took RCMP located in the northwest Manitoba town, about 520 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, months to discover the names of the four men implicated in Osborne's abduction and homicide, and it took 16 more years before just one of the four men was convicted.
"The systemic racism and the apathy is what led to 16 years of silence before any justice was brought for Helen Betty Osborne and when you look at the final outcome in that instance, I mean, justice was never really served," said Renee Kastrukoff, one of the organizers of the commemorative event.
"If it had been, we probably wouldn't be having this conversation."
Fifty years later, Kastrukoff feels like not much has changed.
Although a national inquiry was completed into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls two years ago and 231 calls to justice were published, she worries there's still so much apathy and systemic racism for people to be motivated to adopt them.
"We have to keep moving forward so that our children and daughters in particular aren't victims of things like the conspiracy of silence," Kastrukoff said, referencing a book about Osborne's homicide by Lisa Priest, who said it went unsolved for so long because of racism, apathy and a conspiracy to stay silent.
The commemorative ceremony hit home for Kastrukoff because there are four missing and murdered Indigenous women and one missing man in the area where she calls home, and very few answers.
LISTEN | Remembering Helen Betty Osborne:
Eighteen-year-old Kendara Ballantyne's remains were found more than two years ago, and her family is still seeking answers.
Josephine Martin, 58, still hasn't been found after being reported missing in 2015.
Amanda Bartlett from Pimicikamak was last seen in Winnipeg in 1996, but wasn't classified a missing person with Winnipeg Police until 2008.
Elizabeth Dorian from Opaskwayak Cree Nation disappeared from a Manitoba fish camp in 1999 and family aren't sure if her case is open or closed.
And 18-year-old Morris Linklater from Opaskwayak Cree Nation hasn't been seen since September of 2020.
"It's still happening right now. And the fact that it's 50 years later, that's traumatizing," Kastrukoff said.
Important work to do
Among those present at the memorial event for Osborne was the Member of Parliament for Churchill-Keewatinook Aski, Niki Ashton and Manitoba's Families Minister Rochelle Squries and Indigenous Reconciliation Minister Alan Lagimodiere.
"The 50th anniversary of her death is a sombre reminder of the important work that remains ahead to advance reconciliation and healing," Lagimodiere said at the event on Saturday.
He said the province is helping build on work already being done at the grassroots level.
The province is also taking steps that align with the 231 calls for justice, including funding community events, recognizing Oct. 4 as National Day of Action for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirit People; and amending the Path to Reconciliation Act with the calls for justice at the core.
Although the commemorative event brought up pain and trauma from many different sources, Kastrukoff said the event was primarily about Osborne.
"She was loved and she is loved," Kastrukoff said.
"She had a bright future ahead of her, and she never got a chance to realize her dream of becoming a teacher. She never got a chance for the possibility of having a family of her own, if that's what she would choose to do. Those choices were taken from her."