Evelyn Simpson and Gina Degerness stood together, holding each other and crying. They share something no mother wants to share: their sons are missing. Evelyn’s son Jason Freedom Adam went missing from Edmonton on Oct. 21, 2007.
Degerness’ son Lucas Degerness disappeared from Prince George, BC, on June 7, 2007.
The women were among the two dozen or so people who gathered on the steps of Churchill Square in downtown Edmonton for the first annual rally to honour murdered and missing Aboriginal men and boys.
Bernadette Iahtail, executive director of Creating Hope Society, and co-organizer of the event with the Stolen Sisters Awareness March, said she knows a similar walk was held in Winnipeg a few years ago but she believes this walk, which took place on Fathers’ Day, is the only one of its kind now.
“I don’t want to continue doing this but I have to. There’s nobody for our men and boys. It’s like the Creator said, you must do it. So even when my boy is found I will continue doing this,” said Degerness, who added she had “forced” herself to come to the Fathers’ Day rally.
Degerness’ son went missing from school at the age of 14. After a week of sightings in Prince George, there was no news on Luke for years. Reported sightings in East Vancouver five years after his disappearance sent Degerness there looking for her son only to find out that it was a mistaken identification. But a month ago, a man claiming to be Luke, who is now 21, phoned a missing person’s line. There is hope once again, said Degerness, that her son will come home.
For Simpson, there has been nothing for seven years. Adam was 29 when he disappeared, visiting Edmonton from Lac La Biche. The Edmonton Police Services classified Adam’s disappearance as suspicious. Repeated visits to EPS resulted in no new information for Simpson.
“They said, ‘Oh, maybe he committed suicide.’ If he committed suicide, where is the body? Somebody would have found it. Nothing,” said Simpson. “I told them, “It’s just another Indian in their books….’ They said, ‘Oh, don’t say that.’ To me, in my eyes, they don’t care. They’re probably laughing about it right now.”
Adam’s wife was one month pregnant when he disappeared. He had two other children.
“The saddest part is that so many of our men and boys are missing and it’s not talked about, it’s not seen,” said Iahtail.
Six Nations’ member and Two Row Times journalist Jen Mt. Pleasant has undertaken a count of murdered and missing Aboriginal men and boys. Using social media, websites such as MissingKids.ca and Albertamissingpersons.ca, and electronically archived newspaper articles, Mt. Pleasant has tallied 650 murdered and missing Aboriginal males since the 1950s.
“There is definitely not enough awareness on this issue and it definitely speaks to the greater issue of our missing and murdered Aboriginal people,” said April Eve Wiberg, whose organization Stolen Sisters Awareness March has been instrumental in bringing awareness to the number of murdered and missing Aboriginal women and girls. That number, according to figures recently released by the RCMP, has 1,017 Indigenous women murdered and another 164 missing between 1980 and 2012.
“Amnesty International has always said missing women and girls, but I want to say missing women and children because women raise boys, too,” said Iahtail, “and part of it is we need to change the language. We need to be able to be inclusive.”
The walk, which was held on June 15 and called Napekasowiyinaw (Warriors), was also to mark “the traditional role of men in our communities.”
“We have this certain misconception that men don’t care about their families, that’s why they abandon them and I think, historically, men are protectors and with the cycle of child welfare and the cycle of residential school, those roles have been missing,” said Iahtail. “There are a lot of good men out there that are providing for their families and being the best that they can be, and that’s all we can ask for everybody to be the best that we can be.”
Iahtail noted that Caring Hope Society was having difficulty getting funding for a program that would see men mentor boys.
“One of the biggest things is we live in a society where we dismantle families. And we’ve got to stop doing that … we need to work holistically with our families and that’s including the men,” said Iahtail.
Photo caption: Jason Jr. stands with his grandmother Evelyn Simpson and rally co-organizer April Eve Wiberg as they talk about the disappearance of Jason’s father.