The Late Loretta Saunders


Senator Statement Senator Jane Cordy March 5th, 2014

Hon. Jane Cordy: Honourable senators, no doubt you have heard of the tragic murder of Loretta Saunders, an Inuk woman and a student at Saint Mary's University whose body was found last week in New Brunswick.

My intentions were to write about Loretta, her life, her work and her death, until I read an article last week by Darryl Leroux, who was an adviser on Loretta's undergraduate thesis at Saint Mary's. I feel his words speak her truth much better than anything I could write and I would like to read some excerpts from his article "In Honour of Loretta:"

I woke up early this morning, unable to fall back asleep. As you may imagine, the past 10 days or so have been extremely difficult, for a number of reasons that I never could've predicted.

After hearing about Loretta's murder, I walked home, the loneliest walk of my life, braving onlookers who were no doubt puzzled at the tears streaming from my eyes and the sounds emanating from my body. I came home, lay in bed, and ignored all attempts to communicate with others for several hours. I couldn't move. I ended up speaking with a few friends and family members before falling asleep from exhaustion, my heart heavy with sorrow and my head aching.

I'm still in shock at the news, and especially of her final resting place. That image hurts beyond anything I could say in words.

And I refuse for that to be the last image I have of Loretta, given her remarkable spirit.

Even as I write this, as the tears wrack my body and the letters on my keyboard blur, none of this seems real. I was always so worried about Loretta. She presented all of the vulnerabilities to which indigenous women are prone, through no fault of her own. I reread her thesis proposal last night and was reminded of how deeply she was aware of being a product of a Canadian society intent on destroying and eliminating indigenous peoples. That last word, "eliminating," may seem extreme to some, but it is now so charged, so raw, so very real.... Elimination.

Lying in a ditch along the Trans-Canada Highway. I simply cannot get this image out of my mind....

It's our doing, which Loretta articulated so clearly in her writing — theft of land base, legalized segregation and racism, residential schools for several generations, continued dispossession = social chaos.

It is a recipe for disaster for indigenous peoples, and especially indigenous women. Who suffers most when access to land, to the ecological order at the basis of most indigenous societies, is limited, controlled, or outright eliminated? Is that not what's at the basis of a settler society like our own, eliminating indigenous peoples' relationship to the land (and/or their actual bodies), so that can we plunder it for our gain?...

Less than half of my second-year students have heard of residential schools, and among those who have, only a handful can imagine and articulate the impacts such a system would have had in their own communities. We are for the most part incapable of empathy.

Honourable senators, these are powerful words by Darryl Leroux. As parliamentarians, I believe that we have a responsibility to establish a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada. As Cheryl Maloney, President of the Nova Scotia Native Women's Association said:

A National Inquiry will be an important step towards recognition of Aboriginal peoples place in Canada and reconciliation of all Canadians and Aboriginal peoples.

Honourable senators, the number of missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada is a tragedy.