Nfld. & Labrador

Inuk mother to speak about daughter's murder at MMIWG inquiry in Labrador

Charlotte Wolfrey has spent more than a year building the strength to testify about her daughter's murder at this inquiry — and now her time has come.

Charlotte Wolfrey pushed for RCMP to open station in Rigolet after daughter's death

It's been 25 years since Charlotte Wolfrey lost her daughter, Deidre, to a bitter act of domestic violence, but the pain has not subsided.

After months of preparing, Wolfrey is ready to share her story to an inquiry on missing and murdered Indigenous women like Deidre.

Deidre Marie Michelin, shown here with one of her four children, was murdered in 1993 by her partner. (Supplied by Michelin family)

"I want to make sure that I do my daughter justice and I want to make sure I talk about our journey and our struggles to get to where we are today," Wolfrey told Labrador Morning.

The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls has landed in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, with two days of testimony scheduled for today and tomorrow.

While many opted to give their testimony via private written submissions, Wolfrey will stand in front of a public crowd and speak about her daughter, who was killed by her domestic partner in a murder-suicide in Rigolet.

Those beautiful characteristics we have as Inuit people are preyed upon in bigger and larger cities.- Kim Campbell-McLean

She knew after consultations last year that she would stand and speak about issues she believes need to be addressed.

"I've been preparing mentally, I've been preparing emotionally and I've been preparing physically," she said.

"I've read over what I've got to say a number of times. Not to anybody else, only myself. Just to see how long it was going to take me and to see how many tears I would shed."

Even after several practice runs, there are still tears.

Tragedy resulted in remote RCMP station

Deidre Michelin was shot and killed by her partner, Jobe Wolfrey, on Jan. 20, 1993. All four of Deidre's children were in the house — including her five-year-old daughter, who awoke to the shot and took her little sister to go get help.

In previous interviews with CBC News, Charlotte Wolfrey said her daughter had been calling the RCMP for help all day, but the nearest officer was 160 kilometres away in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

Deidre Marie Michelin's family picture is displayed on a table with other missing and murdered women at a vigil in 2016. (CBC/Katie Breen)

Wolfrey took up the fight to get an RCMP detachment in Rigolet — a successful battle, and one she channeled her grief and sorrow into. 

"After that I really started healing and working on myself instead of focusing on something else. I started having to focus on the physical pain I was going through and the enormity of our loss."

Many communities in Labrador are similar to Rigolet in their remoteness, and still lack services for women going through domestic abuse, says Kim Campbell-McLean, executive director of AnânauKatiget Tumingit Regional Inuit Women's Association.

"Our communities are isolated and geographically, they are quite far apart," she said. "Isolation also plays a huge factor and a huge role in missing and murdered Indigenous women in Labrador."

Inuit qualities 'preyed upon', says advocate

Campbell-McLean is also taking part in the inquiry, and has been involved since the consultations in ensuring it is culturally appropriate and community-oriented.

When asked what she wants the inquiry commissioners to learn, Campbell-McLean said she wants them to understand the area has its own unique challenges.

She was a real feisty, fun-loving person who had a real big sense of humour.- Charlotte Wolfrey

"Inuit people, generally we are very open, kind, caring, trusting people. Those traits that we appreciate so much may be taken for vulnerability in a big southern setting," she said. 

"Those beautiful characteristics we have as Inuit people are preyed upon in bigger and larger cities. That's one thing I'd like the rest of Canada to know."

Kim Campbell-McLean, shown here last summer, wants the country to know about problems women face in Labrador. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

Campbell-McLean also wants them to know how the fear after reporting of domestic violence is amplified in their communities, where there is often no choice but to live near your abuser — and court proceedings drag on with judges and lawyers flying in and out at the discretion of Mother Nature.

Wolfrey wants them to know about all those issues, too, but she also wants them to know who her daughter really was.

"She was a real feisty, fun-loving person who had a real big sense of humour," she said.

"She loved her children. She loved to cook. She liked to sew. She really enjoyed our lifestyle. She moved out on the land when summer time came and everybody went to fish. She loved those things."

The inquiry will begin at Hotel North Two with an opening ceremony at 8 a.m. and run until 6:45 p.m.

On Thursday, an opening prayer will start at 8:30 a.m., with proceedings set to wrap up at 5 p.m.

With files from Bailey White and Martha Troian