Published in The Tyee | December 13, 2012 | Circulation: 340,000 unique monthly readers
“The violence all has to stop,” Matilda Fowler says, glancing at her daughter’s framed photograph. “For all families — no matter where we’re from, who we’re with — we’re all family. I just want to take her home; but right now, I just want to know who took her, and why.”
From the photograph, 16-year-old CJ Morningstar Fowler smirks out at reporters, her head tilted in an almost questioning expression. On Dec. 6, the Gitanmaax First Nation youth was found murdered in Kamloops.
“All I want is justice for my daughter,” the mother says, never fumbling her words despite tears. “I don’t want any more young girls going missing or murdered. Nobody deserves to lose a daughter.”
The teenager’s father, Glen Wilson, also said he wants to see justice for the girl, whose family said loved taking pictures of her friends on her cellphone, listening to music, and going for walks in nature. She was, her mother added, a natural listener and supporter, even of strangers.
And while the call for justice came clearly at a press conference yesterday morning — held on Musqueam First Nation, as the First Nations Summit assembled for several days of meetings — the Fowler family also want answers.
For Aboriginal leadership in the province and country, some of those answers could emerge if Canada opened an independent national inquiry into more than 600 missing and murdered native women and girls.
Among those attending the press conference with the Fowler’s parents was Shawn A-in-chut Atleo, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN).
“There is no good reason for the loss of this life — none whatsoever,” he said, his eyes welling up with tears after one reporter asked how he would respond to people who say CJ’s death couldn’t have been prevented. “There is no reason that is acceptable, for the loss of the life of this young girl.
“This is what we need to make abundantly clear: (…) the broad way in which First Nations are treated, pushed to the margins of society, and deeply impoverished continues to be amongst the most tragic of our experiences.
“There is no reason that is okay. She was 16 — a child on the cusp of adulthood. It is a tragedy of incredible proportions that is a crisis that requires the country be seized by this matter. That’s why we call for a national commission of inquiry.”
That call for a public commission to investigate hundreds of missing and murdered native women across the entire country — a matter that is already under investigation by the United Nations and came before the Organization of American States earlier this year — comes only days before the release of the final report of B.C.’s own Missing Women Commission of Inquiry on Monday.
But Atleo, alongside First Nations Summit Grand Chief Ed John and Union of BC Indian Chiefs Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, reiterated his frustration with an inquiry that saw more than 25 publicly funded government lawyers go head-to-head with four lawyers representing community interests — one of whom, aboriginal interests lawyer Robyn Gervais, resigned in protest midway through the hearings.
The B.C. government declined to fund lawyers for organizations granted official standing in the inquiry, which was called to investigate the police and Crown’s failure to catch serial killer Robert Pickton sooner, despite numerous tips and informants.
“Violence is taking so many of our young women across Canada,” said Gitanmaax First Nation’s Chief Councillor Julie Morrison, from the Fowler’s home reserve near Hazelton. “It’s time to stop; we need to end the violence.
“We as Gitanmaax people are matrilineal, and yet we’ve lost another young woman, far too young in life. Our hearts break for this family and for their loss (…). She was a beautiful young woman who was taken far too early in life. We as leadership can stand up together and say, ‘Enough is enough’ — to make changes in our communities, make changes in the law (…) and make changes to the justice system.”
For Phillip, CJ Morningstar’s death underlines the persistence of racism in a country that often prides itself on tolerance and multiculturalism.
“Why are there so many hundreds and thousands of aboriginal women that go missing, and many turning up murdered, over the last many decades?” he asked. “The answer is obvious: it’s the elephant in the room.
“We live in a racist country. We have a government in power in Ottawa that has very racist attitudes towards the Aboriginal people of this country. Until such time as those attitudes in this country change at the highest levels, and down through government, we’re going to continue to find these types of tragedies. It need not be the pattern if Canadians at large begin to take ownership of this issue and the relationship with aboriginal people, and we begin to turn this around.”
Dressed in a black sports jacket, Wilson wore a button in his black cap: “I pledge. End violence.”
“It’s not only my family that is hurt, but many families across Canada,” he said. “It’s not only my voice that’s going to be heard — it’s all nations. We all stand together today. Together, we’ll stop this, for once. Me and Matilda just want some answers.”