Manitoba

'Somewhere, this needs to stop': MMIWG families call for justice at Manitoba Legislature

Loved ones of women who have been murdered or gone missing gathered Thursday at the Manitoba Legislature for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Honouring and Awareness Day.

'Why was no one held responsible for the death of this woman, my mother?' asks daughter of woman slain in 1994

Kim Geswein, centre, with paper, calls for justice for her mother at the Manitoba Legislature during Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Honouring and Awareness Day. (John Einarson/CBC)

Standing by a gruesome 1994 front-page photo of her slain mother's body, Kim Geswein made a call for justice Thursday.

"She was a kind woman driving somebody home. It was the wrong place," Geswein said, standing by her sisters.

She was part of a large crowd who came out to the Manitoba Legislature for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Honouring and Awareness Day.

Her mother, Darlene Weselowski, was found dead with a gunshot wound to her head on Highway 247, near La Salle, Man., in 1994 — when Geswein was just eight years old. Her body was found along with that of her boyfriend, Bernard Cook, who was one of the leaders of the Manitoba Warriors street gang.

Robert Dennis Starr was convicted in the deaths in 1995 and given a life sentence, which he successfully appealed. In a 2000 Supreme Court ruling, the top court ordered a new trial for Starr because there was a reasonable likelihood the jury applied the wrong standard of proof.

Starr was found guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter in the spring of 2001, but only in connection with Cook's death.

Geswein, now 32, said she wants to see justice served.

She said it wasn't until the past 10 years that she began looking into her mother's slaying.

Dozens of photos of both recent and historic cases of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls were displayed around the rotunda at the Manitoba Legislature, along with candles and tobacco. (John Einarson/CBC)

She started asking questions after meeting Bernadette Smith, while the two went to school together. Smith, who is now an MLA, became a vocal advocate for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls after her own sister disappeared from Winnipeg's North End in 2008.

"It started to open my eyes and think … this is something I need to look into," Geswein said.

"Why is this [case] closed the way it was and why was no one held responsible for the death of this woman, my mother?"

She said not having her mother, who was ​Métis, around as a child led to a loss of culture and identity.

"It always felt like I was missing something and I didn't know … what it was. I'm not complete — there's something missing. So in this search, I feel like I'm still healing and opening up those old wounds that were once, I thought, healed."

'Dumped, like they're nothing'

Some families took turns at the legislature Thursday speaking in front of the crowd about their missing or murdered loved ones.

Jessica Houle asked that her sister's killer be found. Cherisse Houle was was only 17 when a construction crew found her body near Sturgeon Creek in the Rural Municipality of Rosser, northwest of Winnipeg, in July 2009.

Jessica Houle wants her sister's killer to be found. Cherisse Houle was was only 17 when a construction crew found her body northwest of Winnipeg in July 2009. (John Einarson/CBC)

Her death remains an unsolved homicide but police continue to investigate. A detective in the crowd approached Houle Thursday and said she'd like to meet with her.

"I know there's somebody out there that … should say something," said Houle.

"A little girl doesn't just go to Rosser, Manitoba by herself and end up dead."

Dozens of photos of both recent and historic cases of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls were displayed around the rotunda at the Manitoba Legislature, along with candles and tobacco.

Among the faces was that of Tina Fontaine, the 15-year-old girl whose body was found in the Red River in 2014 wrapped in a duvet cover and weighed down by rocks. Her death triggered national outrage and renewed calls for a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
Cherisse Houle's killer has never been found. (John Einarson/CBC)

The crowd paused for a moment of silence for Mary Madeline Yellowback, whose body was found mixed with recycling at a Winnipeg depot last Friday.

The 33-year-old mother was visiting Winnipeg from her home community of Gods River, Man.,  for a medical trip. Homicide investigators are investigating and a police spokesperson called the discovery of her body "absolutely appalling."

"It's just disgusting the way the women are being treated and … dumped, like they're nothing," Houle said.

Geswein said the event at the legislature was therapeutic in a way.

"I have regained hope that we can bring justice to our story as well as other families," she said.

"Somewhere, this needs to stop. It's a lot of women, a lot of girls that are going missing or being found murdered and it's a lot of violence. There's no reason for it and that's something I just don't understand."

Hundreds of people gathered at the Legislature today to honour missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. 2:28

About the Author

​Austin Grabish started reporting when he was young, landing his first byline when he was just 18. He joined CBC in 2016 after freelancing for several outlets. ​​In 2018, he was part of a team of CBC journalists who won the Ron Laidlaw Award for the corporation's extensive digital coverage on asylum seekers crossing into Canada. Email: austin.grabish@cbc.ca