Nova Scotia

Loretta Saunders scholarship gets boost from Highway of Tears doc

Two Halifax theatres screened a documentary about missing and murdered indigenous women Monday evening in support of the Loretta Saunders Scholarship Fund.

Documentary screenings coincide with start of Loretta Saunders murder trial

Loretta Saunders died in February 2014 at age 26. A scholarship in her name was established the same year. (Facebook)

Two Halifax theatres screened a documentary about missing and murdered indigenous women Monday evening in support of the Loretta Saunders Scholarship Fund.

The film, Highway of Tears, was shown at the Spatz Theatre and the Bus Stop Theatre.

It coincided with the start of the murder trial Monday for the two people accused of killing Saunders. The 26-year-old Inuk woman was studying at Saint Mary's University when she was killed in February 2014. 

Matt Smiley, the filmmaker, created the documentary about the First Nations women who have gone missing or were murdered along a 724-kilometre stretch of Highway 16 in British Columbia.

He said it was a particularly fitting time to bring the screenings to Halifax.

"We pushed a little bit to ensure that it would happen here in Halifax when the trial started," Smiley said.

"I think [the Saunders family] wanted to shift to a positive and to continue the work that Loretta was doing."

Proceeds from the film screenings are going to the scholarship fund set up in Saunders' name, which helps indigenous women pay for post-secondary education.

Saunders was writing her thesis on missing and murdered indigenous women when she was killed. The documentary was of particular interest to her and her sister, Delilah. 

"Loretta and Delilah had actually heard about the film while I was making it, I actually just found that out today," Smiley said. 
Filmmaker Matt Smiley and Delilah Saunders, Loretta Saunders' sister, on stage in April 2015, at the Spatz Theatre. (Stephanie vanKampen/CBC)

"They had been intending to reach out and find out how they could see it."

Delilah joined Smiley on stage after both screenings for a question and answer period. 

Cheryl Maloney, president of the Nova Scotia Native Women's Association, was in the audience at the Spatz Theatre. She said the documentary was emotionally overwhelming and had to leave the theatre at one point.

Maloney says Saunders would have appreciated the documentary.

"It's just to honour Loretta, what she wanted to do, what she wanted to raise," she said.

"She wanted to do what Matt [Smiley] did. She should have been here as a brilliant writer. He's a filmmaker, writer, they should have been on this side helping the cause and now she's another statistic."

Blake Leggette and Victoria Henneberry were charged in Saunders' death, after her body was discovered in the median of the Trans-Canada Highway, west of Salisbury, N.B.

Five people were chosen Monday for the jury in their murder trial. Jury selection continues Tuesday.

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