Grassroots database launched for missing, murdered native women
Community groups unwilling to wait for national inquiry
A community-led online database documenting the brutal deaths and disappearances of indigenous women in Canada has been launched.
The website — an initiative of three groups, No More Silence, Families of Sisters in Spirit and the Native Youth Sexual Health Network — is called It Starts With Us-MMIW. It came online just a few days shy of the first anniversary of Bella Laboucan-McLean’s death.
Bella Laboucan-McLean, from Sturgeon Lake Cree First Nation in Alberta, fell 31 storeys at a condominium in downtown Toronto on July 20, 2013, a death police consider suspicious. Her sister, Melina Laboucan-Massimo, says the family still doesn’t have any answers.
“This new website and database gives families like ours the ability to not only document the lives of our loved ones, but also commemorate and celebrate their lives and achievements,” Melina said in a news release.
Laboucan-Mclean’s family has posted one of the first tribute pieces to the new site.
Activists including Audrey Huntley from No More Silence aren't putting energy into calls for a national inquiry on missing and murdered indigenous women anymore. Instead, Huntley is working on initiatives such as this community funded database.
"We've been frustrated to say the least and just working really hard to see what we can do beyond just breaking the silence," said Huntley, "because obviously just talking about this matter isn't making it stop."
The website gives space for families and friends to remember their loved ones, and gathers data and information about missing and murdered indigenous women.
Huntley said they have developed a research methodology that is “credible but sustainable,” in consultation with the Keenen Research Centre at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. The methodology takes into account “not just details of death, but broader life circumstances,” including time spent in foster homes, and familial history of residential schools, Huntley said.
The database will also include missing and murdered who are lesbian, gay, bisexual,transgender, transsexual. or "two-spirited" — an identification that represents a native person who houses both male and female spirits within.
Currently, volunteers are working with data from Ontario, but there are plans to extend the work to other provinces in the coming months.
“We know there are many other stories, families and anniversaries,” Krysta Williams of the Native Youth Sexual Health Network and community partner. “This is just the beginning.”