By Morgan O’Neal
As the trial of the man accused in the multiple murders and disappearances of women from the infamous Downtown Eastside of Vancouver began in New Westminter last month, attracting like flies to a corpse spectators and journalists from as far away as Europe, a relatively small Winnipeg construction pledged financial aid to shed light upon a lesser known tragedy unfolding in Manitoba. It is believed that there are now more than 50 women who have been murdered or have gone missing in the province in recent years. These cases all remain unsolved and almost all of them involve female aboriginal victims.
Jerry Sorokowski, head of PMG Inc. (a firm that does most of its work on reserves in the North) has pledged to contribute $1,000 from every home it builds to a fund meant to focus attention on a problem that has haunted people for years. Rumours have long circulated and many people have known about these cases since the beginning, but the deaths and disappearances have remained under reported in the media and moribund in the files of the police. If these facts seem vaguely familiar it is perhaps because this is precisely what happened in the initial stages of the investigation into the women who went missing on the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver.
For years, the Vaancouver police refused to take seriously the statements of people who suggested that a killer was on the loose and was preying on women in this area of the city. “I’ve never been touched by this kind of tragedy and I can’t imagine what it’s like to be in a family whose daughter has gone missing or has been murdered,” Sorokowski said. There are, of course, no shortage of grieving relatives in British Columbia who can tell him exactly what it is like to be in such a family, and to be ignored by a police force and a justice system supposedly designed to serve and protect people in such circumstances.
We can only hope and pray that the same mistakes will not continue to be made in Manitoba that so disgraced the police work in British Columbia and brought such disappointment upon the families of degraded victims. It should not, after all, fall to Sorokowski’s construction company (which will build about 50 homes on northern reserves this season) to fund investigation into these unsolved crimes. But as long as it does, and in the absence of government intervention, we can only applaud this lone ranger for his noble effort. When the homes are built and the math is done it is expected that a total of $50,000 will be raised toward the Reward Fund.
The fund, known as Sisters in Spirit, Winnipeg Chapter, was originally the brainchild of Raven ThunderSky, whose sister Barbara Keam was murdered in 1980 in Norway House. Her’s is one of the slayings that has never been solved. Raven ThunderSky has known Sorokowski for many years, but could hardly believe her ears when she heard that he was kick-starting the reward fund with such a large contribution. “I told Jerry I had this impossible dream to start a reward fund and when he said he’d give $1,000 for every home I didn’t think I heard him properly,” ThunderSky said.
Meanwhile, Sorokowski said he’s hopeful that other firms that do business with First Nations communities, and those that don’t, will contribute to the reward fund. The group’s lawyer is now in the process of setting up the fund, and ThunderSky invites any individual or firm wanting to donate to the cause to contact her through her e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org