Boldly going where the federal government cowardly refuses to visit, two grassroots organizations intend to build their own database of missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada.

The groups – Families of Sisters in Spirit and No More Silence – decided to create an information resource independent of government funding and control. “The purpose is to allow family members to have access to that information,” said Audrey Huntley of No More Silence.

“We were talking about how there are so many different takes on the numbers,” Huntley added. “You always hear the numbers provided by NWAC (Native Women’s Association of Canada), which is around 580, but then other people will talk about the thousands, which is quite distracting. In our view, it isn’t about how many there are, but more about the systemic nature of the situation that’s important.”

While NWAC had developed its own database of missing/murdered Aboriginal women in a federally funded project that ran from 2005 to 2010 under the moniker Sisters in Spirit (SIS), Ottawa cut the funding in 2010, seized the data and handed over the responsibility to the RCMP.

Not only did this abandon the families of those women without the means to tell the stories of these women, but the feds also shelved the proposal for an Aboriginal-specific database. Instead, they gave the RCMP $10 million to create a database for all missing persons in Canada. However, the new database will not include any of the SIS data that outlined the systemic issues underlying the gruesome phenomenon.

Law enforcement will not have any access to this data, nor do the two groups plan on working with police agencies. As Huntley explained, they see the police as part of the problem when it comes to missing and murdered Aboriginal women.

“They are one of the reasons as to why these cases are under-investigated and, in some cases, it is even law enforcement that is perpetrating the crime, as in the case of the Human Rights Watch report on northern communities that showed it was the RCMP who was violating women,” said Huntley.

One of its purposes will to be able to provide accurate information on missing/murdered women to the media.

The high-tech database is currently being built with the aid of Métis researcher Dr. Janet Smylie. It will be more complex with detailed information on each case. In addition, in will include profiles of suicides by victims of violence.

“We know that there are so much more than 580 women missing because that number is years old,” said Bridget Tolley, who founded Families of Sisters in Spirit as a means of providing support to victims’ families after Ottawa pulled the plug on the NWAC database.

Over the last three years, Tolley has devoted her life to advocating for these families and providing them with support unavailable elsewhere. She does so in part because she has first-hand experience with tragedy: her own mother was struck and killed by an RCMP vehicle in 2001.

“I would like to see this information out there. Girls like Maisy (Odjick) and Shannon (Alexander – both missing since 2008 from Maniwaki); I would like to see their files updated with any little thing to keep this alive.

“Right now, if I had a missing daughter, I don’t see anything out there that would help me. And, because it can just so depressing and so hard on some days, if I could just go to that website and see my daughter’s profile and make sure she is not forgotten, that is what would make my heart feel better,” said Tolley.

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