Hearing their voices
The mission of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls is pretty simple: to honour the lives and legacies of Indigenous women, girls and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and two-spirit community.
It has three main goals: Finding the truth. Honouring the truth. Giving life to the truth as a path to healing.
On Oct. 30, the family of Loretta Saunders, a 26-year-old Inuk woman originally from Labrador, gave testimony at the inquiry hearings in Membertou, N.S.
Saunders was murdered in Halifax on Feb.
13, 2014 and her body was found discarded in a hockey bag on a highway median in New Brunswick on Feb. 26. She had been in a long-term relationship and was pregnant.
She was killed in a dispute over rent money by a couple who had sublet a room in her apartment. Afterwards they stole her car and bank card to enable and finance their attempt at escape.
As the agreed statement of facts from the killers’ trial showed, Saunders fought hard for her life, tearing through four plastic bags placed over her head during the struggle.
She had been studying criminology and planning to write a thesis on the topic of missing and murdered indigenous women, surely never dreaming her name would make that list. She had already overcome obstacles that many people spend a lifetime wrestling with; she fought substance abuse on the streets of Montreal after years of teenage turmoil, coped with the pain of the racism her parents and grandparents had been subjected to in Labrador, and finished three years of high school in just eight months after she turned her life around.
In their testimony, her family’s pride in her accomplishments and all that she could have achieved was evident. “She was quite the girl,” her father, Clayton Saunders, said.
“She wanted to help her people and she was on the path to do that,” said her sister Delilah Saunders, who has also become a strong advocate.
Loretta Saunders was an intelligent, beloved, fiercely determined, resilient, passionate, engaged and inspiring citizen, who wanted to advocate for her people and make the world a better place.
This is her truth. Her family’s words at the inquiry honoured that truth and shared it with the country.
By publicly acknowledging all that she was, all that she had to give, and the anguish and injustice and enormity of their loss, it is hoped her family will find that their journey of grief is also a path to healing.
And that through this inquiry, that path might be walked by us all.
It is because of the generosity and courage of families like the Saunders that the voices of those the inquiry seeks to honour will never be silenced.