My sister’s name was Tonesha River Walker Desjarlais. We called her Toni. One night seven years ago she was sleeping over at my family’s house in Edmonton, and someone broke in and killed her. She was 16 years old.
Toni was just an ordinary girl with her whole life ahead of her, but to me she was also this amazing person who I looked up to for everything. She was a good student. She loved to dance. She was athletic. She was the best at every sport she tried. She wanted to go to university and become a gym teacher. I was three years younger than her and I used to copy every single thing she did. When she got mad at me for it, my kokom would explain that I only did it because I loved her, and then Toni didn’t seem to mind so much.
It’s been seven years since Toni was murdered, and I told her story publicly for the first time a few months ago in one of my courses where we were studying Indigenous peoples in Canada. A lot of the people in my class seemed surprised. I don’t think people realize that women go missing and are murdered right here. In our backyard. In our city. In our homes.
I don’t blame people for not knowing, but we need to change the way we talk about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. I don’t want people to remember my sister as a number or a blurred face on a PowerPoint slide. I don’t want people to dehumanize Toni and other women by saying they were drunk or on drugs or involved in prostitution. Toni was none of those things. But even if she were, she and every other woman who is missing or murdered deserve to be remembered as people. They are real people. They are daughters, mothers and sisters.
My family is lucky. We know where Toni is. We know where her body is. A lot of other families don’t know. They don’t get to have that peace.
I try to make it to all the vigils I can. I dance the jingle dress. I march. I pray that the women and girls who are missing come home safe. I pray that their families stay strong. I pray that those who are suffering will heal. I try not to be angry. And I hope that one day Indigenous women like me will feel safe. That we won’t need to be afraid.
– Hailey, 3rd year Bachelor of Arts student and Cultural Engagement Liaison for the Indigenous Students Club
Recognizing the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women
Students, staff and faculty take time to reflect on issues related to gender-based violence.
We acknowledge that the land on which we gather in Treaty Six Territory is the traditional gathering place for many Indigenous people. We honour and respect the history, languages, ceremonies and culture of the First Nations, Métis and Inuit who call this territory home.