‘It was re­ally emo­tional and em­pow­er­ing’

In­quiry hears heart-wrench­ing story from fam­ily of Loretta Saun­ders

The Labradorian - - FRONT PAGE - BY NICOLE SUL­LI­VAN

Loretta Saun­ders was writ­ing a mas­ter’s the­sis on miss­ing and mur­dered Indige­nous women. And then she be­came one her­self.

Now, her mother, Miriam Saun­ders, is vow­ing to con­tinue Loretta’s ac­tivism to help First Na­tions com­mu­ni­ties and bring to light the in­jus­tices they face.

“Be­cause of the pas­sion she passed down to me, I want to con­tinue her work,” said the Inuk woman from Labrador, dur­ing her tes­ti­mony at the Na­tional In­quiry into Miss­ing and Mur­dered Indige­nous Women and Girls in Membertou on Oct. 30.

“Thanks to my daugh­ter, she left some­thing in me that I’ll never let go. I am tired of be­ing one of the quiet ones.”

The Saun­ders fam­ily was the first to give tes­ti­mony at the in­quiry, which con­tin­ued in the Cape Bre­ton First Na­tions com­mu­nity near Syd­ney un­til Nov. 1. Tak­ing place at the Membertou Trade and Con­ven­tion Cen­tre, the in­quiry heard from about 40 wit­nesses.

Mi­ram tes­ti­fied along­side her hus­band, Clay­ton Saun­ders, and daugh­ters, Deliah Saun­ders and Au­drey Saun­ders.

One thing the fam­ily stressed was how they ex­pe­ri­enced first­hand “white pass priv­i­lege.” This is when a First Na­tions per­son or other non-Cau­casian Barb Man­i­towabe, from On­tario, made this medicine bag and oth­ers to be given to the fam­i­lies and sur­vivors tes­ti­fy­ing at the in­quiry. In­side are the four medicines - sage, sweet grass, to­bacco and cedar.

per­son is treated dif­fer­ently be­cause they are thought to be white.

“I saw how they played it out af­ter she went miss­ing and was found mur­dered,” said Mi­ram, fight­ing back tears.

When Loretta first went miss­ing she was listed as white. Ev­ery time Mi­ram called po­lice for in­for­ma­tion, she was trans­ferred to an in­ves­ti­ga­tor and given up­dates. Then it was re­leased that Loretta was Inuk and sud­denly Mi­ram had to deal with what she called “middle men” and couldn’t get an­swers.

“I had to curse at them and my fa­ther would be rolling in his grave. He didn’t like me curs­ing,”

she said.

Loretta’s sis­ter, Deliah, also tes­ti­fied, at times laugh­ing as she shared good mem­o­ries.

“She was my best friend, she was my other half … she guided me and helped sup­port me in my life,” she said.

At other points she cried as she re­mem­bered how hurt­ful some me­dia treat­ment had been to­ward her fam­ily, es­pe­cially when a re­porter texted her with news her sis­ter was found dead be­fore the fam­ily was no­ti­fied.

“That’s not the way I should have been ap­proached by the news,” she said.

Some, like Tyra Denny, 26, made their tes­ti­monies in pri­vate.

“Peo­ple need to hear my story of my broth­ers and sis­ters in spirit … I see the is­sues in our com­mu­ni­ties and some­one needs to take ac­tion,” said the Way­cobah First Na­tions woman.

“I see that they keep talk­ing about rec­on­cil­i­a­tion so why aren’t we tak­ing ac­tion? So I de­cided that I am go­ing to move for­ward and take the ac­tion … I took the ac­tion to­day on bring­ing all the is­sues to­gether into one is­sue.”

Denny was tes­ti­fy­ing as both a fam­ily mem­ber and a sur­vivor. Even though she tes­ti­fied only to the in­quiry’s com­mis­sion­ers, Oa­jaq Robin­son and Michèle Audette, as well as some sup­port peo­ple, she still found it dif­fi­cult.

“I felt I had it un­der con­trol. I felt I knew what I was walk­ing into un­til I had to sit there and dis­close every­thing that was hid­den un­der­neath me,” said Denny, an Abo­rig­i­nal youth out­reach worker.

“I didn’t re­al­ize it was go­ing to be that pow­er­ful un­til half­way through it. So I took a lit­tle break.”

Af­ter her break, Denny was able to tell her sto­ries with a “clear head” and hopes the in­quiry will help oth­ers start their path to heal­ing and help stop the “chaos” af­fect­ing First Na­tions com­mu­ni­ties.

“It was re­ally emo­tional and em­pow­er­ing but I am em­pow­er­ing some­one. That’s what I do and that’s what I strive for. I look for it ev­ery day,” she said.

Dur­ing the open­ing re­marks at the start of the day, Audette said they would be hon­our­ing the truth the fam­i­lies were telling and promis­ing they shouldn’t be afraid the in­for­ma­tion will “end up on a shelf.”

“What we will be hear­ing this week will be taken to heart,” she said.

First Na­tions peo­ple who are look­ing for sup­port as fam­ily mem­bers or sur­vivors are en­cour­aged to call 1-844-413-6649. It is toll-free and open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

PHOTO BY NIKKI SUL­LI­VAN / CAPE BRE­TON POST

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