Or maybe snow piled high at roadsides, dark descending early. The wind a moan through streets silent but for the squeak and crunch of footsteps, the long northern winter underway.
Perhaps rivulets ran through cracks and gullies, washing away the detritus of winter, bubbling, gurgling, singing a spring song. When tree limbs grew supple, and life sprang from the soil with green sprouts and insects stirring, and the nights shortening.
I don't know when, but this is what I do know. A young woman rode a bus one night in Thunder Bay.
She was at college. Already she had beaten many odds, graduated public school, and high school too, which had meant leaving her home community, hundreds of kilometres away. She carried within her strength of spirit, a wicked sense of humour, pride, and determination. Physically she was beautiful, with a lithe frame, long, black, braided hair and steady bearing. Her lineage was proud.
She got off the bus, and as she walked that night, a pickup truck passed slowly and then drove slower still and circled back. Her senses quickened as it stopped next to her--fear and horror drenched her body. There was no mistaking the intent of the man who stepped from it, his size and strength evident at first glance.
With her heart pounding in her ears, she ran. Adrenaline flooded her body, adding to her natural speed and agility. She fled, literally, for her life, zig-zagging through backyards like a wild-eyed deer sprinting away from the bulls-eye of a hunter's rifle.
Even so, he caught her, breath ragged, his hands on her, tearing off her knapsack. She fought back with superhuman strength and kicked him in the groin, hard, and as he staggered up, she kicked him again, this time in the head. Big as he was, he was stunned. With lightning speed, she disappeared into the night, and this time, he didn't catch up. One Indigenous woman made her escape.
I was part of a circle she trusted with her story. Although it occurred several years ago, within the bones and cells of her body, the trauma is alive. She said that she is fortunate and grateful to still be here. She knows all too well that her story might have ended differently. She reported the assault to the police in Thunder Bay and gave a description of the truck and the man, but was never contacted in follow up. He is free to stalk his human prey.
The issue became soberingly real for us as we heard our friend's story firsthand. Since then, I have not been able to shake it from my imagination.
Bearing witness to such an experience as this demands a response. It must be more than merely a shocking story.
- Educate yourselves and others
- Inform politicians that it matters to us that there is an action plan to address the recommendations resulting from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.
- Learn what changes could make a difference and advocate for them.
Below are a few of the many sources of information:
Context 2019/06/03 on The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls
Government of Canada: National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women
CBC.Ca Missing and Murdered: The Unsolved Cases of Indigenous Women and Girls
Kairos Canada Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women
The roots of the problem can be traced back over one hundred years, to government policy that made it mandatory that Indigenous children be taken from their homes and families for school. Over many generations, until the last residential school closed in 1996, family structure and culture broke down, and drugs and alcohol became methods of numbing the heartbreak and pain. In turn, this brokenness perpetuates the vulnerability of those least able to defend themselves.
But there is hope to break this cycle and help bring healing by standing with Indigenous communities, in friendship, assistance and advocacy--for mental health and addictions counselling and resources. As well, for those who are people of faith, we can pray for forgiveness (as much damage in the schools was caused by the church, including sexual abuse.) We can also pray for healing and the breaking of strongholds.