Aboriginal women often overlooked

Wendy Carlick was shopping for graduation shoes with her daughter the day she went missing. It had always been Carlick's dream to see her daughter graduate. She never got that chance.

Wendy Carlick was shopping for graduation shoes with her daughter the day she went missing.

It had always been Carlick’s dream to see her daughter graduate.

She never got that chance.

On May 31, 2007 – days before graduation – Angel Carlick disappeared.

Six months later, her body was found in the Pilot Mountain subdivision. The cause of her death is still unknown.

Today Wendy can speak about her daughter for hours.

It wasn’t always that way.

After Angel went missing, Wendy drowned the pain with alcohol and stopped talking.

“It’s been three years of hardship,” she said. “It’s still really hard to say certain things.”

Sadly, Angel’s story isn’t that uncommon in First Nation communities, says Courtney Wheelton.

Aboriginal women are more likely to get murdered than any other demographic of women in Canada, she said.

And when they go missing, they’re less likely to be found again.

Wheelton is collecting stories of aboriginal women in the Yukon who have gone missing or been murdered. She was hired by the Yukon Aboriginal Women’s Council this spring.

In just over a month, she came across 22 names. “It’s shocking and scary how many names we have so far,” she said. “And I’m nervous there may be more.”

Only six of those cases – dating back to the early ‘60s – were ever reported in the news and most of them, she said, were given little coverage.

Wheelton wants to piece together a picture of all the aboriginal women who died or went missing so they’re not forgotten.

She’s been talking with elders and community members around the Yukon to dig up stories.

Over the year, she’ll be adding these women’s profiles to the 582 names already collected by the Native Women’s Association of Canada.

The national group started collecting names in 2004 to prove a hunch – that aboriginal women experience a disproportionate amount of the violence committed against all women.

So far, the project, dubbed Sisters in Spirit, has proved the thesis correct.

Between 2000 and 2008, 153 aboriginal women were murdered in Canada.

Aboriginal women make up only three per cent of the population, but these women represented 10 per cent of the total female homicides in Canada in that eight-year period.

“If it were (any other demographic) it would be considered an epidemic,” said Wheelton. “But it’s so under the radar.”

She points to the notorious Highway of Tears between Prince George and Prince Rupert, BC.

Many of the women who disappeared along that highway were aboriginal.

Police handle the cases of aboriginal women differently, says the Native Women’s Association.

Across Canada, 85 per cent of murders are solved by police. With aboriginal women that number is much lower, only 53 per cent, according to the association.

Missing aboriginal women are also less likely to be found.

Angel was reported missing June 12, 2007.

At a volunteer search party organized in July of that year, a police officer couldn’t say what areas of town had been combed.

Posters about the missing woman were sent to communities in Alberta and British Columbia in October.

But the posters weren’t needed.

A month later, Angel’s body was found in the Pilot Mountain subdivision.

Wendy attended the public RCMP review organized earlier this month.

“I went because I never talked to police for three years,” she said.

She thinks police should be quicker at searching for missing people.

They should start looking right away and not wait the mandatory 24 hours before they go out, she said.

Two years before Angel disappeared, Wendy’s cousin in Fort St. John disappeared.

But she never thought it could happen to her daughter.

“I was always very protective of (Angel),” said Wendy.

She was hesitant to uproot her daughter and son and move them to Whitehorse.

In Good Hope Lake, BC, where they grew up, people in the community always looked out for her and her children, she said.

Moving to the city strained Wendy’s relationship with her family.

Angel ended up on the street and her brother was put in foster care.

At 17, Angel started working at the Blue Feather Youth Centre.

It was tough at first. She was homeless and addicted to alcohol.

A year later, though, she had landed an apartment, was helping manage the centre and mentoring kids there, said executive director Vicki Durrant in a previous interview with the News.

Her dream was to graduate and adopt her brother out of foster care.

Angel also wanted to find a permanent place for her mother to live, she told a News reporter days before she went missing.

Wendy was extremely close to her daughter, she said.

“I keep thinking about her everyday and I try to keep strong,” said Wendy.

With counselling she’s been able to tell the stories of her daughter once again.

“It’s good to remember,” said Wendy.

“It keeps you stronger and keeps you smiling.”

People who have any information regarding missing and murdered aboriginal women in the Yukon or would like more information regarding the Yukon Sisters in Spirit project can contact Courtney Wheelton at the Yukon Aboriginal Women’s Council at 667-6162 or at ysis@northwestel.net

Contact Vivian Belik at

vivianb@yukon-news.com

With files from Genesee Keevil and Roxanne Livingstone

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