'It's important to challenge these narratives': MMIWG family member takes issue with book, Who Took My Sister?

Delilah Saunders was shocked to read a poem about the murder of her sister Loretta Saunders in a book called, Who Took My Sister? by Mi’kmaq writer Shannon Webb-Campbell.
Delilah Saunders lost her sister, Loretta Saunders in 2014. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Delilah Saunders was shocked to read a poem about the murder of her sister Loretta Saunders in the book, Who Took My Sister? by poet Shannon Webb-Campbell.

"I was really taken aback because to have someone write in the first person as if they were my sister being murdered, that was really hard," said Saunders, an Inuk writer and activist.

Saunders explained that her family was not contacted by Webb-Campbell, who is part Mi'kmaq, to ask permission to write about her sister Loretta Saunders.

In a recent article that Saunders wrote for the Nova Scotia Advocate, Why I disapprove of this poem about my sister Loretta, she explained that Webb-Campbell was, "out of touch with the protocols that exist in our Indigenous communities."  

Loretta Saunders was studying the issue of murdered or missing women when she was killed. (Gofundme)
"Having not heard anything that prepared ourselves for that content, I was also very angry," said Saunders.  

The book's publisher, Book*hug, has since pulled the book and  issued a statement saying that they were unaware that Webb-Campbell had not contacted the families of MMIWG to discuss the work.

Reinforcing negative stereotypes

"Writing such desensitising material as if it's normal, it's harmful. It just keeps recreating the narrative that these things are OK and these things are normal."  

Publications like Webb-Campbell's contribute to a narrative that normalizes violence against Indigenous women and girls, explained Saunders.
Shannon Webb-Campbell's book was pulled by the publisher. (Book*hug)

"I'm glad that they did pull the book."

Saunders said that if her family had been approached by Webb-Campbell before the book was published, they wouldn't have given permission.

"I would have a conversation with her about why that's not appropriate and why it's damaging," said Saunders. "It's important to to be aware of how you're contributing to the narrative."

"As a writer, I feel for her having her work pulled like that," said Saunders.

"But one thing I say quite often is we are not far from the time when 'dead squaw' or 'dead 'skimo' was splashed across headlines and that's why it's important to challenge these narratives because they're damaging. They help shape the perception that Indigenous women and girls are less than," said Saunders.

'A learning moment'

Saunders has been in touch with Webb-Campbell, and she talked to her about "using this as a learning moment."

"I don't want bad blood to come out of this because there's already a lot of negativity that consumes the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls," said Saunders.