Indigenous

Mother of 6-year-old daughter brutally murdered 3 decades ago, begins to break her silence

This time of the year is never easy for Kwakwaka'wakw mother Roxana Wilson. Every two years as the month of March approaches, she has braced herself to address the man that brutally murdered her six-year-old daughter, Adriane Cecile Wadhams.

'It's a tremendous pain, especially knowing everything, how he took my baby's life,' says Roxane Wilson

Samantha Pelkey and her mother Roxana Wilson at the gathering in Prince George for missing and murdered Indigenous women.

This time of the year is never easy for Kwakwaka'wakw mother Roxana Wilson.

For the past decade, every two years as the month of March approaches, she has braced herself to address the man that brutally murdered her six-year-old daughter Adriane Cecile Wadhams.

"It's a tremendous pain, especially knowing everything, how he took my baby's life and I keep those details from my children," Wilson said from her home in Fort Rupert, B.C.

In November of 1991 Jason Kennedy, then aged-15, was tried as an adult and found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison for the June 1989 murder of Wadhams.

As documents from the Parole Board of Canada ascertain, every time when Kennedy has been up for a review he waived his right to parole — but only after Wilson's family submitted their heartfelt and sometimes traumatizing victim impact statements.

"I really have a hard time with the parole hearings and having to relive that all over and over again," Wilson said. "He holds the cards all the time. I really feel that's unfair."

Adriane Wadhams was just six-years-old when she was murdered.

But there has been some relief for Wilson and her family. In the spring of 2015, Bill C-479, the Fairness for Victims Act changed the length of time required in between each parole review from two years to five.

That means the family won't have to undergo the same pressure to talk about Wadham's horrific death until 2022.

The Parole Board of Canada says that's in keeping with Canada's Bill of Rights and it must ensure an offender has access to all the available information.

"While Kennedy has committed a terrible terrible offence, he does need to be treated fairly, like all Canadians," Parole Board spokesperson Patrick Storey said. 

"She was brave, a little fighter"

Adriane Wadhams would be 34 today. Even though it's been almost three decades since she was murdered, Wilson remembers her daughter's strong little spirit like it was yesterday.

Samantha Pelkey and her mother Roxana Wilson hold up a photo and memorial for Adriane Wadhams.

"She feared nothing. She was so outgoing and her eyes sparkled like diamonds," Wilson says with great affection in her voice.

At only six-years-old, Wadhams was also a lead singer and a sensation in their House of Prayer church in Alert Bay.

Her older sister, Samantha Pelkey, now 37, remembers how people were always drawn to the little girl with the powerful voice.

"She always had a crowd of people around her — she wasn't afraid of anything," Pelkey said.

"She used to get up in church and sing whatever was in her heart. People would get so excited for her and were so proud of her. It was amazing" Pelkey added.

Wilson often wonders what her daughter would be like as an adult, even a teen; where she would live, who she would marry and how many children she would've had?

From darkness to light

Both Wilson and Pelkey have over the last few years started a healing journey together, attending gatherings for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

Today the family is stronger and less frayed than it has been in years since Adriane was murdered.

"Our lives were flipped upside-down", Pelkey says from her home in Vancouver. "We felt disgusted about what happened." 

Samantha, Adriane and brother Jeremy.

Pelkey, who is taking a break from studying tourism and is currently a stay-at-home mom, says her family members all felt an overwhelming sense of blame.

Wilson's four other children were playing at a nearby park when Adriane was taken.

"I was the oldest siblings and we were suppose to know all too well not to talk to strangers. But he [Kennedy] separated us by playing hide and seek," she says as her voice breaks up.

All the siblings, parents and the community at large shouldered the blame for years. The little girl's death affected the entire social fabric of Fort Rupert.

"Jason Kennedy took our lives along with her. But now, we will rise above and not allow Jason Kennedy to steal our joy, or take our power anymore, Wilson said.

A park, a walk and healing in her memory

Wilson is now hoping to do upgrades to The Adriane Wadhams Memorial Park in Fort Rupert. It was last upgraded in 2011.

On the anniversary of her daughter's death every June 3, Wilson, her family and community walk from Fort Rupert to Port Hardy. 

And this past year Wilson was credited by her community for being the catalyst for organizing the first annual march for missing and murdered women and girls in Kwakwaka'wakw territory.

Wilson and Pelkey say getting to know hundreds of other Indigenous family members who have lost loved ones like they have, is comforting, healing and strengthening.

Roxana Wilson holds a T-shirt in bearing Adriane's photo.

"There is a definite difference when you are in a room full of people with a similar story," Pelkey said.

"When we speak about our stories, we are helping each other, it's a big weight being taken off you," she said.

Wilson said she is getting stronger too, in large part from national support from Indigenous family members across Canada.

"All these years of suppressing my feelings and not showing my emotions or sharing my tears in front of anyone, I know its okay to do so now, " Wilson said.

About the Author

Angela Sterritt

CBC Reporter

Angela Sterritt is a journalist from the Gitxsan Nation. Sterritt's news and current affairs pieces are featured on national and local CBC platforms. Her CBC column 'Reconcile This' tackles the tensions between Indigenous people and institutions in B.C. Have a story idea? angela.sterritt@cbc.ca

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