The following blog post was written by Drew Penner, a reporter who took a close look at the disappearance of Delaine Copenace. The young aboriginal woman is one of thousands of missing and murdered indigenous women who have never found justice. Drew took his research and turned it into a moving podcast.
I’ve done a fair bit of hitchhiking in my time, and the war stories you hear fellow travelers tell are way less gruesome that you might think, for the most part. Turns out people are generally kind, drivers want to help others to get where they’re going, and most times when things end badly it falls more into the category of “inconvenience” not “disaster.”
But when hanging out with your native friends, you’ll hear a different story. Often white people just aren’t willing to pick them up. A lot of native women have some pretty sketchy hitchhiking tales. These include bizarre late-night encounters and detours down lonely roads. These women, many of whom have no other form of transportation besides sticking their thumb out, have genuine fear based on stories they’ve heard – not to mention their own experiences that ended up beyond the bounds of a typical Point A to Point B ride transaction. Just because the difficulties facing native women and girls – including those who go missing – is out of sight, doesn’t mean we don’t have more work to do on the issue.
When I was presented with the opportunity to participate in a podcast series about Canada’s missing and murdered native women, I wanted to take a unique approach. I wanted to see for myself what a single case that was tagged with the “Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women” label looked like up close. I wanted to pick a story, keep the focus on the victim, and find out what I could learn about where we’re at as a society when it comes to dealing with race relations.
This #MMIW term is a relatively new one in the Canadian consciousness, and it wasn’t one I recall hearing growing up – even though I lived in a place where undercurrents of racism permeated the entire social landscape. I knew I couldn’t help but admit my hometown was more than fertile ground for a story.
I knew the only way I could tell the story of Delaine Copenace properly was if I approached it honestly, as someone who grew up as a Caucasian kid in the community. I wasn’t looking to make the story into anything it wasn’t, and I really just aimed to understand where her mom Anita Ross was coming from when she disputes the official version of events.
Delaine’s story may not be the “typical Missing and Murdered” case where there’s been an obvious instance of a predator abducting a defenseless native girl, but that’s kind of the point. No story of a missing girl – native or otherwise – should be seen as “normal.” Grieving families should be helped, not hindered, as they attempt to come to terms with tragedy. Just because a subject is difficult to address doesn’t mean we should ignore it.
We hope this podcast can be used as a tool to spark healthy conversations on the true scope of missing and murdered indigenous women around the world, and remind our listeners that we need to do a better job of consoling those among us who have been victimized by what Justin Trudeau termed a “pervasive culture” in Canadian police departments. Although we cover some dark ground, we hope you’ll ultimately find this podcast uplifting.
Written By: Drew Penner
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