Waubgeshig Rice is an Ottawa-based author and journalist originally from Wasauksing First Nation. His debut collection of short fiction, Midnight Sweatlodge, was published by Theytus Books in 2011. It won an Independent Publishers Book Award in 2012. His debut novel, Legacy, (also from Theytus), was published in 2014.
In light of Canada’s missing and murdered Indigenous women crisis, Waub drops by the blog today to share a powerful story about the power of story.
In late February, dozens of family members of missing and murdered Indigenous women gathered in Ottawa to share their stories and help each other heal. They were there for the National Roundtable on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, hosted by federal and provincial leaders, with Aboriginal organizations, advocates and community leaders invited to the table. There have been nearly 1,200 known cases of Indigenous women who have been murdered or gone missing since 1980, and this was seen as an opportunity to discuss the root causes of violence against Indigenous women and strategies to end the ongoing tragedy.
I was at the Delta Hotel in downtown Ottawa the day before the roundtable on assignment for CBC News (my day job). The family members were meeting there to hear from each other and talk about what they wanted to convey to the roundtable of leaders. I was assigned to interview some of them, and put a story together on their hopes for and expectations of the roundtable. I talked to a number of people, all bound together by grief and tragedy. Their stories were powerful and heartbreaking. One particular story struck me to the core.
Michelle Pineault flew to Ottawa from Vancouver for the event. I met her in the hallway outside of the conference room where family members of victims were gathered. We chatted briefly, and she told me a bit of why she was there. I asked her if she wanted to do an on-camera interview, and she was eager to tell her story. What she shared over the next ten minutes was truly heart-wrenching.
In brief, her daughter Stephanie went missing from Vancouver in 1997. Six years later, Michelle learned that her daughter’s DNA was found on serial killer Robert William Pickton’s farm. As far as she knew, there were no remains recovered. And then last year, eleven years after learning of her daughter’s murder, the coroner told her that police had in fact recovered two of Stephanie’s vertebrae. As tears rolled down her cheeks, Michelle told me it was like having her “heart ripped out a second time.”
Despite reliving that horror every time she tells that story, Michelle said it was important for her to keep telling it. She wants other mothers like her to understand that they’re not alone. She wants other Canadians to understand the scope of this pervasive tragedy of missing and murdered Indigenous women. She wants to one day find a way to heal. Above all, she wants justice for Stephanie.
Meeting Michelle and other victims’ families that day reminded of the true power of sharing stories. The courage and strength they embody is immensely impressive. There are thousands of Indigenous families in Canada that have endured this terrible tragedy; the ones that tell their stories are dedicated to helping others heal, and to teaching other Canadians about their loved ones and why they should care about them.
Historically, stories have been vital in making Indigenous cultures in North America thrive and survive. Stories teach us about who we are, and how things have come to pass. They entertain us. They devastate us. They help us heal. Today, Indigenous people are using new methods like the written word and media as conduits for their powerful stories. For me, it’s been an honour and a privilege to help convey some of these stories as an author and a journalist. It’s the least I can do for people like Michelle.
Waubgeshig Rice visits the Brockton Writers Series Wednesday, March 4, 2015—full of beans Coffee House & Roastery, 1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto (6:30pm, PWYC)—along with Karen Connelly, Hoa Nguyen and Joyce Wayne. The event begins with a special guest talk, “Go Social: Using crowds, comments and community to gain influence online,” by Zoe Di Novi of Wattpad.