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Inquiry should shed light on issues facing Calgary’s aboriginal population

Cultural space paramount for urban indigenous people to heal

Alex Crowchild (left) and Mavis Crowchild still need answers into the missing case of Mavin's daughter, Rhonda Running Bird.

Jeremy Simes / For Metro

Alex Crowchild (left) and Mavis Crowchild still need answers into the missing case of Mavin's daughter, Rhonda Running Bird.

Calgary is going to have to take a hard look at itself to understand and potentially solve issues facing the city’s indigenous population, according to advocates.

On the heels of the federal government announcing its inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women on Wednesday, Josie Nepinak, executive director of the Awo Tann Healing Lodge, says Calgary’s biggest hurdle is turning dialogue into concrete actions.

“We need to have spaces to talk about these issues,” she said. “There isn’t a lot of that, and folks are still looking for answers and healing.”

The city has been consulting stakeholders about its urban aboriginal strategy, according to Coun. Brian Pincott, who says advocates are asking for a central information and healing centre.

He said stakeholders told him an urban aboriginal centre would be the foundation for spurring language and culture.

“Our challenge as a city is going to be open to honestly look at what we have in our city systems that could have contributed to murdered and missing indigenous women,” he said.

“We, as a city, have to be willing to honestly look at that and our role within that.”

For Nepinak, the conversation shouldn’t end on days when big announcements are made.

“We need to continue to consult and talk about this,” she said. “Reports and speeches are great, but we need action, and I’m hopeful this inquiry will help in understanding what we need to do going forward.”

Mother of missing indigenous woman hopes inquiry brings better investigating practices

Mavis Crowchild wakes up every morning wondering about her daughter, Rhonda Running Bird, an indigenous woman who went missing more than two decades ago.

“I know she was killed,” Crowchild said in her living room, looking off to the side. “But they never found her.”

On Wednesday, the federal government launched its inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, aiming to explore the systemic causes of such violence by analyzing all socioeconomic factors.

Running Bird, 25 at the time, went missing in 1995 when she went on a hunting trip in Swan Lake with her baby boy, common-law husband and a female relative when their truck got stuck.

It’s believed she and her common-law husband left the truck that night, walking different directions to look for help.

She never returned.

“I’ve waited 21 years with no answers,” Crowchild said softly. “I couldn’t take it. She was my only daughter.”

The inquiry will examine police practices and attitudes, child welfare and other social policies.

The biggest complaint by victims, like Crowchild, is that there is hardly any communication between them and investigators.

“We feel like we’re ignored,” she said. “But we’re not the only ones. I find that a lot of native girls are put on a shelf.”

Crowchild’s husband, Alex, agreed. He said Mavis has been suffering for far too long.

“All I’d like to see is a call,” he said, occasionally wiping a tear from his eye. “Even if they don’t have any answers, it would be nice to at least know that.

“She’s upset when she sees other mothers embrace their daughters. She has no place to visit Rhonda, not even a gravesite.

“She’s strong to keep going, and I support her the best I can.”

RCMP declined to comment on Running Bird’s case because they don’t want to show prejudice as the inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women continues up until Dec. 31, 2018.

Running Bird was a good mom, Mavis said.

“She was very educated,” she said. “She was on no drugs or whatever.”

But she still faced abuse from her partner, she added.

“He was addicted, and it’s all he knew.”

The light, though tiny, for Mavis was raising her grandchildren.

“There was some comfort,” she said. “The girl resembled her mom. She helped me heal because she was with me. I knew a part of Rhonda was with us.

“It was heartbreaking to see them go, but we still keep in touch.”

Though Mavis said she’s lost all hope in ever finding answers, she wants to see a change in police behaviour towards indigenous women.

“The kids are orphans in all of this,” she said. “I know I will never get answers, but at least some other women will.”

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