Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
On Feb. 14, as the 31st annual women’s Memorial March was taking place to honour the lives of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and gender-diverse people, and while Alberta Premier Jason Kenney was proclaiming his government was “busy working on” a joint report recently received on murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls, the Edmonton Police Service (EPS) issued a news release about a “suspicious death” of a woman in her forties found in her residence in southwest Edmonton.
The EPS would not confirm if the woman was Indigenous, but a neighbour, who wished to remain anonymous, did tell Windspeaker.com the deceased woman was Indigenous.
The neighbour said she was “devastated” to find out when EPS knocked on her door to ask her questions and told her the woman had died.
The neighbour said she had called EPS once in January for what appeared to be a domestic situation at the woman’s residence and had seen EPS at that location several other times that month.
EPS would not confirm it had responded to that address previously nor did they provide any other details as the case was “an active homicide investigation.”
“We confirm identifying details about a deceased person only after the autopsy is complete and the death is confirmed to be criminal,” said Cheryl Voordenhout, EPS spokesperson in an email to Windspeaker.com.
The autopsy is scheduled for today, Feb. 16.
On Jan. 26, charges were laid in the death of Sherri Lynn Flett, 43, a member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN), who had been reported missing by her family on Jan. 16. She had last been seen on Jan. 12 in downtown Fort McMurray.
Her family, along with ACFN Chief Allan Adam, called for help in a search that family and volunteers conducted on Jan. 22 and 23. Flett’s remains were found Jan. 24.
Timothy Andrew McDougall, 37, of Fort McMurray, was charged with second-degree murder, indignity to human remains, unlawful confinement and firearms-related offences.
“We’re all committed to finding ways to make Alberta safer, especially for Indigenous women who have too often been vulnerable and who face a disproportionate level of violence,” said Kenney, who was speaking at an event.
Indigenous Relations Minister Rick Wilson issued a news release to mark the Feb. 14 march, which he said provides “an opportunity for loved ones to come together to mourn the loss of those who were taken too early and to remember those still missing.”
A working group was struck in March 2020 by the Alberta government to move forward on the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murders Indigenous Women and Girls, which was delivered in 2019.
The working group included Rachelle Venne, CEO of the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women, in Edmonton; Josie Nepinak, executive director of the Awo Taan Healing Lodge, in Calgary; Lisa Higgerty, director of the Hinton Friendship Centre and co-chair of the Métis Women’s Council on Economic Security; Suzanne Life-Yeomans, co-chair of the First Nations Women’s Council on Economic Security; and three MLAs, although they changed during the course of the working group.
Wilson received the working group’s report, which contains more than 100 recommendations, in December 2021.
Recommendations have been divided into short term, medium term and long term and were guided by the 231 Calls for Justice from the final national inquiry report, Venne told Windspeaker.com in an earlier interview.
“Receiving the Alberta Joint Working Group’s final report marks an important milestone in our work. This is important work and we are taking the time necessary to study the recommendations,” said Indigenous Relations spokesperson Adrienne South. “We will have a response to the report and its recommendations this spring.”
According to numbers released by the province from the MMIWG joint working group’s report, 206 Indigenous women were murdered between 1980 and 2012.
In the Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo area, Flett is one of nine women, girls and two-spirit people who have been reported missing or murdered since 2004.
In 2020, the Alberta RCMP Historical Homicide Unit secured federal funding for an investigator to support the recommendations of the MMIWG national inquiry. This investigator will assist with the completion of case summaries, assist in MMIWG investigations, and support the Provincial Family Information Liaison Unit as they work with families of murdered and missing women, according to a news release issued by the RCMP last December.
There are more than 200 unsolved homicides and 100 long-term missing persons' cases in RCMP jurisdiction in Alberta, said the RCMP. It is unclear how many of those are specific to missing and murdering Indigenous women and girls.
Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.