by Sara Jaffri
On October 22, a public memorial to honour the life of a young Indigenous woman murdered in Winnipeg was taken down and thrown in the garbage by a landlord just hours after her family and friends left the site of the gathering.
“I attempted to speak to the landlord and ask him why the memorial was gone”, said Dodie Graham McKay, a long time resident of Spence Street where the murder took place. “In the city of Winnipeg, memorials are allowed to stand for a year, yet this was taken down”.
In March of 2017, 21 year-old Shania Chartrand was shot in the West Broadway neighbourhood of Winnipeg. McKay, a neighbour of the house Chartrand was visiting just before her death, told BASICS News that she called the police as soon as she heard the gunshot.
“In less than two minutes [of calling the police] there was a police helicopter hovering over houses, 6 police cars, canine dogs, and a tactical unit. Spence Street went from sleepy quiet street to an area of very intense police presence.”
Despite the efforts of the paramedics who arrived on the scene shortly after the police, Chartrand died of her injuries.
Adding Insult to Injury
Just hours after the end of the October 22 gathering, the memorial had been taken down. McKay saw a landlord with a garbage bin and approached him to find out what had happened to the ribbons, photos and other materials that were part of the memorial.
“When I asked [the landlord], he refused to look at me and speak to me, he just looked at his shoes. I asked ‘Why did you do that, why did you tear that down?’ He refused to acknowledge I was speaking.”
McKay described the memorial as a small and contained one. “I can’t stress enough how it wasn’t a big ostentatious memorial. It was very simple.”
After the October 22 memorial, Shania’s friends and family embarked on a 4-day walk along the highway back to their home reservation, planning to arrive in time for what would have been Shania Chartrand’s 22nd birthday. “This was their way of carrying her spirit back home”.
Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in Canada
The desecration of Shania Chartrand’s memorial is doubly insulting against the backdrop of Canada’s ongoing plague of missing and murdered indigenous women.
“My opinion is that the removal of the memorial is an indication of disrespect for the grief and hurt of the family and friends of Shania. In a city that is so crippled by racism, acts like this will continue to drive a wedge between groups of people.”
Chartrand had moved to Winnipeg to attend secondary school because there are no high schools in the Lake Manitoba First Nation, a reserve located 190 km northwest of Winnipeg. Lake Manitoba First Nation is one of the 9 First Nation communities whose governments were signatories to the Treaty Two with the Canadian government in 1871. The territory covered by Treaty Two is located in southern Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
The lack of secondary school options on-reserve or close to home is just one of the many added obstacles that Indigenous people in Canada face and which place them in harm’s way.
In 2014, Manitoba was identified by an RCMP report as the province of origin for 200 of the 1,200 missing and murdered Indigenous women. More recently, Sagkeeng First Nation, which lies 100 kilometres away from Winnipeg, was reported as the area with the highest rate of unsolved cases from across Canada. However, while Manitoba is a big part of the problem, missing and murdered Indigenous women is a cross-country problem.
After two decades of Indigenous women being murdered and disappeared across Canada, and after years of activists demanding something be done, the government finally launched a national inquiry with a two-year mandate in August of 2016. The Inquiry has come under heavy criticism for being under-resourced and failing in communication with families who have lost their loved ones. So far, reportedly $40 million of the $53 million budgeted for the Inquiry has already been spent.
Four suspects have been arrested and charged with second-degree murder in connection with Chartrand’s death, but no further information has been revealed on the motives behind Chartrand’s shooting.
But whatever the specifics, Chartrand died away from home, away from her family and off-reserve, like so many other Indigenous people in Canada. Chartrand’s death cannot be untangled from the larger structural issues that continue to rob Indigenous communities of their young women.