HAPPY VALLEY-GOOSE BAY, N.L. – An Indigenous Newfoundland woman whose mother was murdered in 2002 says she worries she will also become a statistic.
Amena Evans Harlick told her story to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls during a hearing Thursday in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
Her mother, Mary Evans Harlick, was just 24 years old when she was strangled to death in 2002. Her body was put in a sleeping bag and left in a crawl space.
Harlick said she worries about the day when the man convicted of her mother’s second-degree murder is released.
“I don’t like feeling scared. I shouldn’t have to feel scared,” she said.
“When I get these feelings of being scared I feel like I’m going to be just another statistic. That’s something that worries me all the time because I don’t want to be another statistic,” Harlick said.
Another witness, Sylvia Murphy, told the inquiry how she and seven siblings were abandoned by their mother and sent to an orphanage that later closed.
Murphy said they then found themselves in a series of foster homes where she and her sister were abused as young girls.
She said her sister was sexually assaulted on a regular basis and was told not to tell anyone.
Murphy said they eventually went to police and gave statements, but investigators said charges could not be laid.
“There has been no justice for us all this time. When that investigator came back and said, we cannot charge them, I felt my whole world fell,” she said.
Murphy also told the inquiry that the federal government is revoking her Indigenous status as a Mi’kmaq, claiming she doesn’t meet the requirements even though she has provided ancestry information.
The issue of women losing status has been a common story across the country as a result of changing circumstances including marrying a non-Indigenous man.
Rutie Lampe spoke about the death of her daughter, Kimberley Jararuse, who was just 20 when she was killed in an abusive relationship.
“She didn’t get a chance to live her life,” Lampe said.
She said there needs to be more safe houses where abused women can seek refuge, and more healing sessions for families, even years after suffering the loss of someone to violence.
The Labrador hearings concluded with emotional testimony from Benigna Anderson of Nain who got into an abusive relationship at the age of 15 with a man who was seven years older.
She spoke of being severely beaten many times, often in front of others who did nothing to intervene.
Anderson was with the man for quite a few years, having six of his children, while he continued to drink and beat her.
She said police intervened many times, and he was put in custody — each time returning to start the cycle again.
“Each time his sentence was reduced because he was aboriginal. I believe this is the number one reason violence is so prevalent in aboriginal communities. People literally get away with murder,” she said.
Anderson called on the inquiry to recommend better resources for abused women, and said there needs to be a change in attitude by police.
“There is a systematic disrespect for aboriginal people,” she said.
At the start of Thursday’s hearing, Johannes Lampe, president of Nunatsiavut Assembly, read a list of missing and murdered women from Labrador.
“It is my hope that the concerns of Labrador Inuit will be heard loud and clear by the inquiry commissioners and that those concerns will be given full consideration in the inquiry’s final report,” he said.
“In the end we all want justice. We all want the healing to begin. And we all want to move on with our lives.”
The federal government set up the inquiry in December 2015 to address the high number of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
The inquiry began its work in September 2016 and have requested a two-year extension which would nearly double its original $54-million budget and push back the due date for its final report to December 2020.
So far, close to 800 witnesses have testified at nearly 250 hearings across the country.
— By Kevin Bissett in Fredericton.