Loretta Saunders Found Dead; Epidemic of Violence Against Canada’s Indigenous Women Continues

Communities across Canada gather every year on October 4th for “Sisters in Spirit” vigil, an event to commemorate the lives of missing and murdered Aboriginal women of Canada and to demand justice in the face of stubborn indifference from both government and police. This indifference appears despite a very clear pattern of racist-misogynist violence under which Indigenous women in Canada are five to seven times more vulnerable than non-Indigenous women according to the government’s own statistics; however, Amnesty International speculates that even this may be understating the problem as a result of deficiencies in state reporting.

Loretta Saunders, a 26-year old Inuk woman who was studying Criminology at St. Mary’s University, turned in her 28-page thesis proposal in late January of this year in which she intended to detail the cruel violence faced by Canada’s Indigenous women. Yesterday, her body was found in a wooded median along a New Brunswick highway. She was pregnant before her murder.

Her roommates, 25-year old Blake Leggette and 28-year old Victoria Henneberry, had already been arrested by police on charges related to her Feb. 13 disappearance. On Feb. 18 the pair were arrested on charges of fraud and possession of stolen goods — Loretta’s car.

Police have stated that they have identified suspects in the homicide case and that they are not presently seeking any further suspects.

Her thesis advisor Darryl Leroux had given her glowing remarks in response to her thesis proposal (detailed in his own words here), which sadly she will never be able to complete.

Via http://www.cbc.ca/

Cheryl Maloney
Via cbc.ca

At a press conference held within hours of the discovery of Loretta’s body, Cheryl Maloney, President of the Nova Scotia Women’s Association, stated

“I’m never going to let Stephen Harper or Canadians forget about Loretta and all the other missing or murdered aboriginal people.”

and further,

“She wasn’t what society expected for a missing aboriginal girl. Canadian society, and especially our prime minister, has been able to ignore the reality of the statistics that are against aboriginal girls… This is not what everyone expects, but she is at risk. Every aboriginal girl in this country is vulnerable. For Canada to be ignoring it for so long, it’s disheartening. How many more families does this have to happen to before they take seriously the problem?”

Loretta joins a staggering number of other Indigenous women whose families are left grieving and wondering if they’ll ever see change or accountability. We can only hope that her tragic death will serve as a wake-up call to the Canadian government and police forces to take action to prevent violence against vulnerable women in Canada, but as the content of Loretta’s thesis proposal demonstrates, the wait’s already been a long one.

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Savannah is a queer trans woman and physicist who was unleashed into the cosmos from the great state of North Carolina. She has been active on LGBT diversity issues in physics and also writes on trans feminism and other social justice issues on her blog leftytgirl, preferably while listening to metal. Savannah presently works at a university in Osaka from where she misses her amazing cat Zinfandel back in North Carolina very much. Follow her on Twitter.

Savannah has written 11 articles for us.

16 Comments

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    This is really disheartening. She was someone who was aware of the problem and actively working to understand and fight it, and she still somehow became a victim of it. There isn’t much reason to trust that the government will do the right thing, but I really hope that they do.

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    I’m glad this was acknowledged on AS. The loss of Loretta Saunders is absolutely heartbreaking and horrible. She was doing big things for our community, she was pregnant, she was going places. And now she joins a list of lost women that only other Native women seem to care about, a list of women she was advocating for. A list with names like Shannon Alexander and Maisy Ojdick, who were only 17 and 18. I’m sure the main reason Loretta’s disappearance and murder are garnering attention is due to the fact that she’s young, pretty, fair skinned, and educated. And while I’m glad non-Native people are finally taking notice, we’ll see if the same notice is given to the next Native girl that goes missing (because there will be a next girl) who’s maybe not so fair, ” together”, and anglocentrically pretty. I guess that’ll be the test.
    In my culture, when a person dies, you say their names over and over until you no longer have breath to do so. I think that’s fitting here–saying her name until people can ‘t forget anymore about the most vulnerable smong them: Native women and girls.
    By the way, the memorial day for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women was just a couple of weeks ago, and unfortunately shares the day with the racist Vagina Monologues’ “V-Day movement.”

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    I just want to say thank you to Autostraddle for posting, and Savannah for writing this article. Canada has an amazing ability to hide the atrocities faced by aboriginal peoples because of forced colonization. The Red Dress Project is another great thing bringing awareness to this cause. This site gets traffic from all over the world and people need to know these statistics, this is not something we can ignore. As societies we tend to focus more on other peoples problems without taking a moment to look at our own discrepancies. Here in Canada we may not face much overt violence but we suffer from immense amounts of silent violence. As a Canadian I am ashamed of the way many of us treat aboriginal people, and as a women I am ashamed of the lack of us standing up for this justice.

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