VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – As the world watches the case of a young, white social media influencer Gabby Petito, activists for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women across Canada are wondering why their cases aren’t getting the same type of attention.
The 22-year-old’s homicide has captured the world. Petito and her fiancé Brian Laundrie set out in July on a road trip in a converted van. Laundrie returned to his parents’ home over a month later, but Petito did not.
Her body was later found in a national forest in Wyoming. Laundrie has been named a person of interest in the case.
Lorraine Whitman, president of Native Women’s Association of Canada, says there have been countless stories similar to this one, involving Indigenous women across the country, but their cases don’t get the same kind of attention.
“In some cases, they assume that we’ve run away or we’ve gone, we didn’t like where we were at,” she said. “The sad part is that’s the assumption, and that’s not the fact. These women didn’t just go away.”
“They’re vulnerable just by being a woman, we have that against us. By being an Indigenous woman, that’s two against us. If we’re in poverty, then that’s against us. There’s so much against us.”
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Dr. Peter Chow-White, who specializes in communications and social media at Simon Fraser University, points out being an influencer means followers get regular updates and insight into your everyday life.
“They become pseudo-celebrities. Being TikTok famous has become a thing,” he said. “It also enables people to connect with people that aren’t the typical Hollywood stars and stuff in what’s call a parasocial relationship, where they think they know them and they become overly interested in their lives.”
He points out Petito is a young, white woman and that likely has something to do with why her disappearance has gotten so much attention.
“One interesting and obvious thing about this is there’s been a lot of attention over this young woman who is white and attractive. You’ve got plenty of women from BIPOC communities, whether they’re Indigenous or African American or others, and don’t get nearly as much attention. But these disappearances happen on a regular basis, in a sad way.”
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Next week, Canada marks its first Truth and Reconciliation Day. Whitman says it’s a time to remember, reflect, and learn.
“You have to remember the past. You have to acknowledge the wrongdoings that’s been done to the Indigenous people in Canada. You need to reflect on it, and you also need to talk. Because true reconciliation is a respect between one person and another, one organization and another.”
She says reconciliation starts at the top, adding she would like to see all provinces adopt the federal statutory holiday.