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Disappeared aboriginal women not forgotten; Pressure exerted on Canadian government, police to change attitudes

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OTTAWA -- More than three months have elapsed since Gwenda Yuzicappi last
saw her 19-year-old daughter, Amber Redman, who disappeared in rural
Saskatchewan. Particularly troubling is how there are no further leads in
the case following this presumed abduction.

"Of the people they've interviewed, 102 days later I'm still exactly where
I was from day one," said Yuzicappi. She presented her story during an Oct.
24 press conference on Parliament Hill in commemoration of the one-year
anniversary of "Stolen Sisters: Discrimination and Violence against
Indigenous Women in Canada," a report released by Amnesty International.

Held in conjunction with the Native Women's Association of Canada, the
event brought attention to the disproportionate number of First Nations
women who have been abducted while "Stolen Sisters" highlights how these
severe felonies have not been deemed a priority by numerous police forces.

Amnesty International's involvement with this crisis demonstrates that this
is a case of human rights violations.

NWAC President Beverley Jacobs acknowledged that the Royal Canadian Mounted
Police has made strides recently in bridging the cultural and historical
gaps between Native populations and law enforcement. However, she said she
thinks the disappearance of aboriginal women is not taken seriously by
those sworn to uphold the law.

"When it comes to all of Canada and different jurisdictions, the provincial
police are not affiliated with the RCMP: so what we're saying is to develop
a national policing strategy for all police so there aren't jurisdiction
problems when an aboriginal woman goes missing," Jacobs said.

"Stolen Sisters" charges how police agencies nationwide, combined with
public apathy, have led to racist behavior, directly or inadvertently. In
comparing investigations to the disappearances of women from other races,
the report stated how indigenous Canadian women are not treated fairly and
are at a higher risk of becoming victims.

Though no official statistics have been kept, the number of missing and
murdered First Nations women is estimated at 500 over the past 30 years.
Public inquiries have determined one of the reasons behind these targeted
murders is how aboriginal women are perceived as members of society.

Craig Benjamin of Amnesty International said aboriginal women are
specifically chosen to be victims of abductions and sex-related crimes
because the perpetrators believe they can escape justice; and because
police want to avoid the delicate issue of racism, race-based statistics
are not gathered.

"Social attitudes within the white population, part of which is the lack of
regard to [aboriginal women's] worth and humanity, we see time and again a
factor against the action towards indigenous women and there's almost an
acceptance [of this]," said Benjamin.

When Redman disappeared in Fort Qu'Appelle, Saskatchewan, on July 15, she
was only separated from her party for a short time. Clues revealed by her
mother, including the fact that Redman's purse remained in the car in which
she arrived, indicate she was hastily taken.

Yuzicappi remembers her daughter as having "a beautiful personality and
very humorous ... she is a beautiful Dakota woman." Although Redman's last
known whereabouts -- a local bar -- might lead to some assumptions, her
mother quickly dispelled any notion that this abduction was forthcoming.

"There's that myth with respect to First Nations women [that they do]
drugs, or they drink, or are prostitutes; but I find that unacceptable,"
Yuzicappi said during a phone interview. "My daughter was not a prostitute.
And yes, she liked to have fun with her friends."

NWAC believes the estimate of 500 disappearances is in fact too low. Jacobs
said the first priority is to trace any patterns regarding missing women by
poring through police records, and eventually create a biography of those
killed by interviewing family members.

"We want to ensure these women are treated as human beings and that they
have come from somewhere, and not how the media have portrayed these
stereotypes," said Jacobs.

Jacobs doesn't buy into the excuse that stereotypes of aboriginal women
should be any reason to dismiss missing person reports that have been
filed.

"If family members know they've been gone and they want to report them
missing, why isn't there an all-out call as they do for non-aboriginal
women?"

One of the 12 proposals by "Stolen Sisters" includes "expanding programs
which provide advocates to assist Indigenous people in their contacts with
police and with courts." Other funds to be received by NWAC will be
directed at social services to coordinate these efforts.

"This is a human rights abuse that can only be corrected with a coordinated
plan of action within the range that assures all levels of government [and agencies] are going to take action," Benjamin said. "[Police action] can't
take place in a vacuum and without reform of police policy, it's going to
be very hard for these programs to succeed."

While Amnesty International, NWAC and other aboriginal groups look forward
to changes in Canadian values and practices, Gwenda Yuzicappi has returned
to Saskatchewan in anticipation of the day her daughter comes home.

"We are all mothers, parents; and no matter what our background is, we are
all human beings. Please don't forget about my daughter, Amber Redman."