Helen Betty Osborne's story is timeless — and it shouldn't be

"Helen Betty Osborne’s story is timeless — and that’s a fact I struggle with," says author David Robertson.

Author David Robertson on Unreserved today

Author David Robertson's book Betty: The Helen Betty Osborne Story, is available at McNally Robinson Booksellers in Winnipeg. (Illustration by Scott B. Henderson)

Helen Betty Osborne's story is timeless — and that's a fact I struggle with. I wish it wasn't.

I wish she could be remembered only as the vibrant, driven and kind young woman she was.

But for that to happen, change needs to happen. And to create change, we need to know her face — and the faces of the many hundreds who have followed.

Then, and only then, can we move beyond viewing these women, sisters, mothers, daughters, as statistics. Their faces need to be real to us.

In my experience, the graphic novel is the best way to bring history to life in a tangible way, so that we can see it, hear it, touch it. 

Of course, I've written Betty's story before. It was my first published book, The Life of Helen Betty Osborne. That was in 2008. Back then, it was thought that around 600-700 indigenous women had been murdered or gone missing. Since then, the official number has risen to about 1,200.

I think two things have changed since 2008: One, we are more aware of the epidemic. This is a result of social media, more coverage from news outlets, and, perhaps, in some small way, literature like my first book.

Secondly, tragically, more of our women are being murdered or going missing. Almost every day, I see a notice about another indigenous women or girl who has gone missing posted on my social media news feed. It's heartbreaking.

But there are positive things happening. Last year, amidst the horrific news that another young woman, Tina Fontaine, had been murdered, there was hope.

And it wasn't that thousands had gathered at Oodena Circle at The Forks. It was who had gathered.

Men and women, old and young. Hipsters. Business people. Different cultures. That sort of coming together is hopeful. That sort of coming together says to me that we are tired of things continuing the way they are.

What more can we do? The answer is simple. Share. Take in knowledge. And when you've taken in that knowledge, give it to somebody else. Lend my book to somebody. Talk to them about it.

One thing to keep in mind: Helen Betty Osborne's murder sparked the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry, and one of its key findings was that indifference contributed to the tragedy of her murder and the miscarriage of justice that followed.

What does that mean? People needed to speak up.

So it's your turn. I do it with books. Find your way.   

Thank you, Ekosani.

Tune into CBC Radio One after the 5 p.m. news in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Nunavut, and after the 4 p.m. news in Yukon and the N.W.T. for these stories and more on Unreserved. You can also listen on demand.

On June 2, 2015, 7:00 pm, David Alexander Robertson's graphic novel, Betty: The Helen Betty Osborne Story, will be launched at McNally Robinson Booksellers, in Winnipeg.


David Alexander Robertson, of Irish, Scottish, English, and Cree heritage, is a graphic novelist and writer who has long been an advocate for educating youth on indigenous history and contemporary issues.