By Morgan O’Neal
Daleen Kay Bosse Muskego had been missing since May 18, 2004 until her remains were found last month. At the time of her disappearance Bosse was 25-years old, living with her husband and daughter, and attending the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. Originally from Onion Lake First Nation, she was last seen in downtown Saskatoon in the early hours of the morning at a nightclub. The Saskatoon Police Service’s Historical Case Unit and the Missing Persons Task Force found Bosse’s body in a secluded clearing a few kilometres north east of Martinsville, a suburban community just outside of Saskatoon. Since 2004, the Muskego family had left no stone unturned in their effort to find their daughter. They worked closely with the Saskatoon Police, hired a private investigator, organized a missing person’s poster campaign, and made themselves available to the media at all times.
Douglas Hales, a 30-year old man from White Fox, was in Saskatoon Provincial Court the morning of August 11, where he was publicly charged with first-degree murder and offering an indignity to a body. The latter charge was laid because after the murder Hales set fire to the body. He had been arrested for the murder of Daleen Kay Bosse Muskego on August 10 at 12:05 P. M. in Saskatoon. “He was always a suspect,” said Alison Edwards of the Saskatoon Police, “He was known to be the last person or what we believed to be the last person to see her the night she disappeared.”
Messages of support immediately began streaming in from the community and beyond. In a press release, the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian nations (FSIN) extended their condolences to the family for the loss of their daughter. “Our prayers and thoughts go out to the Muskego family during this difficult time,” said Chief Lawrence Joseph.
In their attempt to bring Daleen home, one of the most inspiring things the Muskego family did was to start the Walk for Missing Sisters. According to Daleen’s mother, Pauline, “The main purpose of the walk is that we dedicated it to my daughter Daleen . . . and we have done that for the past four years now . . . and the other purpose is to raise awareness of the other 500 plus murdered and missing women across Canada.” The Walk for Missing Sisters held in memory of Daleen starts in Onion Lake and ends in Saskatoon, and 2008 was the final year. “When we do things like annual events, the protocol according to our customs and traditions is only four times. It’s generally like that. It’s not only our band, but it’s a universal practice among First Nations people, annual events especially,” said Herb Muskego, Daleen’s father.
Daleen’s mother Pauline Muskego said, “Over the past four years the walk started out with maybe 20 or 30 and then went up to about 40 or 50, and this year we had 70 people participating with us all through the week, and then when we had the march in Saskatoon from City Hall to the University of Saskatchewan, we had about 150 to 200 people.” The level of participation this final year has exceeded the previous years, perhaps because this was the last walk, but more likely as a result of an increasingly broad awareness in the community due to the hard work of front line activists.
The Walk for Missing Sisters has been an outlet for the Muskego family’s grief over the loss of their daughter as well as a way for participants to keep active and create awareness of this tragic event and the more than 500 other cases of missing women across the country. According to Beverly Jacobs, President of the Native Women’s Association, “This walk and others like it (for example, the events organized by the group of women who keep the Highway of Tears tragedy in the news and consciousness of Canadian people) provides awareness to the public. It’s a message that they are trying to deliver to end violence against Aboriginal women.”
Aboriginal women of all ages are at great risk in this country, but historically they occupied an honoured place as life-givers and decision makers and were considered equals with their men. Colonialism disrupted this sacred balance and substituted a hierarchal social structure that placed women at the lowest order. Aboriginal women must renew their role as keepers and caregivers of the land, but there is such a lack of services in First Nations communities that it is difficult to begin this task. The seemingly hopeless reality of poverty and the frustrating social conditions that come along with it tend to sap people’s strength. The Residential School experience has left many people with life-long trauma. The pejorative term “squaw” has been in use for years in reference to aboriginal women. Squaw is a loose interpretation of the Cree and Algonquin word “esquew” which means “woman.” Its usage began with the fur traders and has continued to the present day. The legacy of colonization in all its deadly negative effects has had a deep impact on the lives of Native people.
The rates of violence and sexual abuse among Native people is a subject politicians would rather ignore, but the distressing reality is that much of the violence directed towards aboriginal women comes from within the home or the community. Statistics show that aboriginal women between ages 25 and 44 years on reserves are five times more likely to die a violent death than are non-aboriginal women in Canada. Spousal violence touches 54 percent of aboriginal women annually, compared to 36 percent of non-aboriginal women. The over-whelming majority of aboriginal women (90 percent) in federal institutions have been victims of violence or sexual abuse.
Nevertheless, in the face of this seemingly hopeless situation, every year on February 14th for the last 16 years, participants in the “Annual Women’s Memorial March” honor and remember the lives of murdered women and those women still missing from the Downtown East Side of Vancouver. The event has drawn hundreds of supporters to the Carnegie Community Center at the corner of Main and Hastings. Under the banner “Their Spirits Live Within Us” each and every year the event is organized “by women and led by women because women (especially aboriginal women) face physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual violence on a daily basis.” This significant grassroots event has become extremely important to grieving families because it offers individuals a chance to express not only their sadness at the deaths or disappearances of their loved ones but also because it has become a forum for everyone to express their frustration about the manner in which the authorities respond to the ongoing epidemic of violence against aboriginal women both from within their communities and from without.