Hundreds gathered outside a Quesnel motel to honour the spirit of an Indigenous woman found murdered and others who remain missing or whose lives have been tragically cut short.
Amid the faces seen on Thursday, Jan. 20, some had a red handprint across their mouth and some carried signs with phrases like ‘Never Forgotten’, ‘Silent No More’ and ‘Justice for Carmelita.’
The ceremony at the Willow Inn at 856 Front Street drew people of all backgrounds to support the Takla First Nation mourning the loss of 33-year-old Carmelita Abraham.
Her brother Rick Abraham thanked everyone for showing their support and the work of law enforcement in finding her.
“If you have violence against you, speak up — don’t hide it. That’s what happened here,” he said in a distraught voice.
“No woman should go through this.”
RCMP in Williams Lake, Quesnel and Prince George launched efforts to locate Carmelita on Tuesday, Jan. 4, after receiving a missing persons report from concerned family members.
Just over a week later, 51-year-old Quesnel resident, Joseph Simpson, was arrested and charged with murder and indignity to human remains in relation to Carmelita’s death.
Near the main entrance to the Willow Inn, where family said her body was found, smudging and singing was held.
Abraham said Carmelita’s father and daughter had wanted to attend, but it was too long for them to travel.
“My little niece has got no mom now,” he said.
Leading the afternoon ceremony were Takla Chief John French and Nazko Chief Leah Stump, who were joined with members of the Lhtako Dené Nation and Ulkatcho First Nation.
Takla member and Regional Chief of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations, Terry Teegee shared words at the ceremony honouring his relative.
“I can’t help but remember all of my relatives that have become a statistic,” Teegee said naming Jessica Patrick and Ramona Wilson murdered along the Highway of Tears, and Jacqueline Murdock who vanished from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and Norma George who was found murdered.
“As Indigenous people, our women and girls are over-represented, and all I could think of is my daughter who just turned 18 that the odds of violence against her are seven times greater than the norm — it has to stop.”
RCMP action has, for the most part, been positive according to Teegee, who acknowledged parties were ready to sweep Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside for Kenlynn Megan West who was found safe, and that detachments from Williams Lake, Quesnel and Prince George had files and were involved with the search for Carmelita.
“There has been some semblance of closure here, but the fact remains that the vast majority in this country and this province are unsolved,” he said, noting Thursday’s ceremony was part of their healing journey that has become all too familiar.
“The physical Carmelita isn’t here but her spirit is here, and that’s what this ceremony is for.”
North District RCMP Chief Supt. Warren Brown thanked Carmelita’s family for trusting them and giving them the strength and intimate knowledge that allowed police to forward the sad and unfortunate investigation.
He also thanked her family for allowing the RCMP to be part of the ceremony releasing Carmelita’s spirit.
“It’s a heavy day for the community, and I hope this provides some closure,” Brown said, acknowledging the RCMP still has a long way to go toward reconciliation with First Nations.
Teegee’s sister Mary described Carmelita as a beautiful and fearless woman who always spoke the truth and was an advocate for Indigenous youth who had danced at the Olympics.
“Her spirit rests easy and is now at peace,” she said, calling on Indigenous people to remember the strength and resilience of their ancestors that will keep them going as long as they stay together and hold each other up.
Carmelita’s family will return to Quesnel on Tuesday, Feb. 15 at 11 a.m. where they plan to hold a rally at the Provincial Court seeking justice during Simpson’s next court appearence.
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