Sheila North Wilson, grand chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, listens to an RCMP announcement at a press conference in Winnipeg, Friday, March 18, 2016. Helicopters and a specialized military aircraft scoured from the air while armed police took to the ground over northern Manitoba in a hunt for two suspects of murders in British Columbia. Some advocates say it’s a stark contrast to resources applied to searches for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Manitoba manhunt shows lack of resources for missing Indigenous women: advocates

The massive manhunt has gripped the country since Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, and Kam McLeod, 19, went missing

Helicopters and a specialized military aircraft scoured from the air while armed police took to the ground over northern Manitoba in a hunt for two suspects of murders in British Columbia.

Some advocates say it’s a stark contrast to resources applied to searches for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

READ MORE: Police probe ‘suspicious vehicle’ thought to be linked to B.C. fugitives in northern Ontario

“It is a little bit eyebrow raising because of the different response,” says Sheila North, a former grand chief and advocate for missing and murdered Indigenous women.

“The effort that they are going through to try and find them … could trigger a lot of things for people who do their own searches.”

The massive manhunt has gripped the country since Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, and Kam McLeod, 19, were named last week as suspects in three killings. University professor Leonard Dyck and Australian Lucas Fowler and his American girlfriend Chynna Deese were found dead last month in northern B.C.

North said it’s important the suspects are caught because they could pose a serious risk to the public.

But she wonders where the same sense of urgency is when an Indigenous woman or girl can’t be found.

North recalls the case of Jennifer Catcheway in 2008. She was last seen in Portage la Prairie, Man. on the night of her 18th birthday. When Wilfred and Bernice Catcheway notified police their daughter was missing, they were told she was probably out partying, North said.

For more than a decade, the Catcheways have conducted their own search of rivers, lakes, forests and nearby First Nations.

North says she’s also reminded of 51-year-old grandmother, Mildred Flett, who was last seen in Winnipeg in 2010. Her ex-husband has said it was difficult to get police to pay attention to her case.

Flett was from the Testaskweyak Cree Nation in Split Lake, Man., where missing person posters of her remain. Schmegelsky and McLeod were spotted in the same community before a vehicle they were travelling in was found in nearby Gillam, leading police to focus their search in that area.

North said there are more than 1,200 relatives of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls watching as Mounties do everything they can to find the two murder suspects. They may also be wondering why they couldn’t have received more help, she adds.

“Families that do their own searches are feeling a little bit let down and not respected in the same way as these other families are,” she said.

Darlene Okemaysim-Sicotte has seen many families struggle to organize searches as the co-chair of Iskwewuk E-wichiwitochik (Women Walking Together), a grassroots group that supports families of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Saskatchewan.

Her cousin, Shelley Napope, 16, was murdered by serial killer John Martin Crawford in 1992.

Okemaysim-Sicotte says she supports efforts to find Schmegelsky and McLeod and that no life is worth more than another.

But the manhunt for them has made it clear that there is the means, money and public support to conduct a large-scale search when needed, she says.

Okemaysim-Sicotte hopes people will remember that the next time an Indigenous woman or girl is missing.

“The world is watching it, she says.

Here’s the latest in the manhunt for Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky:

Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Kelowna career fair offers new opportunities

Don’t miss the upcoming Black Press Extreme Education and Career Fair in Kelowna, March 12.

Central Okangan Search and Rescue help save three men in eight days

All three men were snowmobiling in the backcountry when they got lost

Kelowna has Canada’s highest ‘moving penalty’

Disparity between vacant/occupied units incentivizes renovictions & reduces mobility, researcher says

Two-vehicle collision causes rollover at Burtch Road and Highway 97

Harvey is down to single lane traffic headed downtown

Lake Country event gets people to celebrate failure

Event on Feb. 29 will give people opportunity to discuss failures, enjoy live music and create artwork

Kelowna Capital News donates archives to UBCO

Kelowna Capital News donated materials dating from 1980 to 2000

Canadians released from coronavirus-ridden cruise ship in Japan fly home

Those who were cleared to travel are to be screened again at Canadian Forces Base Trenton

Health officials confirm sixth COVID-19 case in B.C.

Woman remains in isolation as Fraser Health officials investigate

Trudeau promises update on blockades as Wet’suwet’en chiefs meet Mohawk supporters

B.C. hereditary chiefs are thanking the Mohawks for supporting them in opposition to Coastal GasLink

Petition seeks to remove local police department from Lindsay Buziak murder case

American woman starts online petition in hopes of helping Buziak family

Deaths on popular Shuswap trail ruled accidental

B.C. Coroners Service reports on fatal falls in May and July 2019

Study says flu vaccine protected most people during unusual influenza season

Test-negative method was pioneered by the BC Centre for Disease Control in 2004

Saskatchewan and B.C. reach championship round at Scotties

British Columbia’s Corryn Brown locked up the last berth in Pool B

UPDATE: ‘Chain reaction pile up’ closes southbound traffic on Coquihalla Highway

Black Press Media has reached out to RCMP, paramedics for details

Most Read