'We're a statistic,' says Indigenous mother who lost 2 daughters in 1 year

Even in the toughest times, Joey Tiiah Patricia English found a reason to laugh. She was a young, beautiful Indigenous woman with three children she loved dearly. She came from the Piikani Nation, a Blackfoot Confederacy community in southern Alberta.

Justice system fails to adequately respond to Indigenous families' trauma, says Kim Stanton from LEAF

Photos are displayed at a memorial for Joey English in Vancouver, B.C., on July 15, 2016. (Kat Cut'samulwut Norris)

Even in the toughest times, Joey Tiiah Patricia English, 25, found a reason to laugh.

She was a young, beautiful Indigenous woman with three children she loved dearly. She came from the Piikani Nation, a Blackfoot Confederacy community in southern Alberta.

"She was always loving, laughing," her mother, Stephanie English, says from her Calgary home. 

"Joey was a really gentle girl, really caring. She was really compassionate to complete strangers. If they were hungry, she would feed them, or if they were cold, she would give her jacket to them."

'I never heard from her'

But Joey English's children, age four, two and a baby just 5 months old, are now all motherless. Their mom was reported missing on June 9, though her family said they had to call Calgary police three or four times before they took her disappearance seriously.

Joey and Stephanie English were extremely close, so when Joey didn't call, her mom knew something was wrong.

"I never heard from her," English says.

The response when she called police was disappointing.

"As soon as I said she was First Nations, it wasn't important," English says. "It was, 'Well, we'll call you back.' I was going crazy there."

Just two days after her daughter was reported missing, English received a phone call from the police telling her parts of Joey's body were found in a lightly forested area in the Crescent Heights area of Calgary.
Joey English, from the Piikani Nation in Alberta, was caring and compassionate, her family says. She was a mother of three children. (Submitted by Stephanie English)

The Calgary Police Service told CBC News they believe Joey's death was not a homicide, but more evidence is needed. However, actions taken post-death are considered criminal in nature.

Police continue to search for body parts and are now waiting for test results from the medical examiner's office, which could take up to six months.

Joshua Jordan Weise, 40, of Calgary, has been charged with offering an indignity to human remains. Weise was granted bail a month after he was charged.

Weise's released triggered an uproar from family members and Indigenous people across the country.

Vigils have been held in Calgary and Vancouver, with many saying they're seeking justice for Joey's death.

One loss after another

It's been a harrowing few years for the English family.

Alison Emma Anne Moses English was Joey's younger sister. A mother of two, and just 20 years old, Alison was found dead on June 8, 2015, on the Sunchild First Nation, a Cree community in Alberta. Rocky Mountain RCMP concluded her death was suicide, but the family doesn't agree.

Alison's boyfriend's body was also found, and his death was also determined to be suicide.

"I remember that knock at the door," English says, referring to the day police came to tell her Alison's body had been found nine days after she went missing from a psychiatric ward.

I'm daughterless, I'm freaking daughterless.- Stephanie English

English wonders if Alison may have died from an accidental overdose.

"I'm still really angry about how it was handled. They never even did an autopsy on her," English says about the investigation.

Alison was in the psychiatric ward after she'd been hard hit by the loss of her uncle, who was killed six years ago, English says.

When Alison died, Joey really struggled with her sister's death and started taking antidepressants.

"I'm still grieving for my other daughter. In a year apart, they passed away," English said. "I'm daughterless, I'm freaking daughterless."

English also has two sons, age 15 and 19, who she says are "feeling broken."

"I really didn't want my girls to be a statistic, to be in that kind of category, but whether I like it or not, it's there. We're a statistic."

Families feel unsupported

Kim Stanton, legal director with the Women's Legal Education and Action Fund Inc. (LEAF), says there are disproportionate levels of violence against Indigenous women and girls. The group advocates to change the way the justice system treats these cases and family members.

"Families' experiences tend to be that the justice system response from the time they report a loved one missing through to any trial that may occur is of neglect and disrespect, overwhelmingly," says Stanton.
Stephanie English, the mother of Joey and Alison English, hugs Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi. (Brailon English)

LEAF and the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women, another advocacy group, were granted the opportunity to provide a written submission in the appeal of Bradley Barton, an Ontario trucker accused of murdering a 36-year-old Cree mother found dead in a motel on the Yellowhead Highway. Cindy Gladue had bled to death from an 11-centimetre-long wound to her vagina.

The organization is also intervening in the inquiry into the conduct of Alberta judge Justice Robin Camp. In 2014, during a trial involving the alleged rape of a young Indigenous and homeless 19-year-old, Camp asked why she didn't just keep her knees together.

"The kind of ongoing trauma that is experienced in Indigenous communities is not being properly dealt with by the justice system," Stanton says.

Meanwhile, English continues to question the justice system on behalf of her own family.

"It goes through my head all the time and now having to deal with both of these, both of my girls gone, I don't understand why this has to happen to me or to anybody."