Abused Mohawk woman fears becoming statistic among growing number of missing and murdered

By Kenneth Jackson, APTN National News
The bedside alarm clock said it was 1:58 in the morning.

That’s the exact moment when she was awoken from her bed by a man who had broken into her home and was grabbing her.

Groggy and frightened, as she lived alone with a cat, she thought she was having a nightmare.

She was.

In fact, she’d be living it for several years.

Before the sun would come up she was punched, choked, kicked and threatened to be killed by her ex-boyfriend, a Caucasian who always ridiculed her Indigenous roots.

“He said: ‘Only one of us is going to wake up tomorrow and it’s going to be me,’” the young women recounted to an APTN National News reporter who agreed to protect her identity and some details of the attack because she fears for her safety.

The Mohawk from Tyendinaga thought she was going to die, but somehow was able to survive and call police.

She gave a video statement to police and went to the hospital.

He wasn’t arrested until two days later and was then released from the station. She spent a weekend thinking he was being held for a bail hearing only to find out that wasn’t the case.

She said a police officer refused to tell her they released him.

He was charged with mischief and assault. She questions why he wasn’t charged with more.

She can no longer live in the small town near Ottawa anymore, where the abuser and his family live.

She has to quit her job and move away – far away –  from him.

“It’s not safe for me to be here anymore,” she said. “I don’t want to become a statistic. I don’t want to be another murdered First Nations woman.”

That statistic, which she refers to, is apparently climbing according to a recent study by Maryanne Pearce, an Ottawa researcher, who says she’s compiled over 800 cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women dating back to 1946.

A few years ago that number was pegged at about 600 by the Native Women’s Association of Canada.

Pearce, who is part Mohawk, told APTN her work was done, in part, for her doctorate in law at the University of Ottawa.

“Issues of violence against women are very important to me, so I wanted to help in any way I can,” said Pearce.

Pearce used online media stories, archives and other related work to make her list.

“Most were from 1980 and beyond, and more from 1999 onward,” she said, mainly because the Internet made it easier.

Pearce said she was inclusive and detailed as possible when collecting the date, but is upfront it can’t be 100 per cent.

“Inevitably, I will have missed cases or included case has changed and shouldn’t be there any more,” she said, adding a newspaper recently spotted two in her database that had been found alive.

But her work has sparked others to submit names she never had.

“Since the media began reporting on the research, I have also been sent emails with names or numbers of women that were omitted. One of the cases brought to my attention I have yet to be able to find in any public source,” said Pearce.

Many have called for a national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women, but Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said he won’t call one.

Pearce isn’t necessarily against an inquiry. She does question how it would work.

“I certainly understand the reasons behind calling for a national inquiry. We all want answers and action. While I am not against a national inquiry per se, I have many questions about how it would proceed and function,” she said.

That includes how it will be funded and involve the provinces and territories.

“If we did have an inquiry, would the non-binding recommendations in a report be acted upon, or sit on a shelf?” she wondered.

Still, she hopes her research can attempt to help other work in the area, and try to fill any gaps.

Shawn Brant is also from Tyendinaga, and a well-known Mohawk activist willing to stand up against what he perceives as injustices against Indigenous peoples.

Brant is about to begin a campaign “to force the federal government” to call a national public inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women.

It’s what he calls the first step in a plan to protect Indigenous women in Canada.

“There’s no limit in how far we’ll go to resolve this,” said Brant.

He said that includes “direct conflict” if required.

Brant is aware of the Mohawk woman and her situation.

“I think that she models the circumstances that inevitably lead to tragedy,” he said.