ATHABASCA — The Sisters in Spirit campaign was started in 2004 to draw public attention to the thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women across Canada.
Since then, it has expanded to become an annual event and now includes girls and two-spirit people as well. Every Oct. 4, groups across the country walk in memory of them and to raise awareness. Over 50 people in the Town of Athabasca walked this year to remember several local murdered women like Nature Duperron in April 2019 and Kelsey Thunder in March of this year.
Rose Houle was one of two women who led the walk from the Athabasca Native Friendship Centre (ANFC), east toward the Grand Union Hotel, where they turned south toward 49 Ave before crossing the street at the Husky gas station and proceeded into Riverfront Park and walking between trees where red dresses had been placed by ANFC staff.
“My children have grown up without a kookum,” she said, adding her mother had been murdered in a domestic violence incident in 1988. “You never have the opportunity to raise a child well because you were never taught that yourself.”
Cheryl Uchytil-Duperron is the mother of Duperron and is taking part in a documentary by BearPaw Media, a department of Native Counselling Services of Alberta, about families taking on the role of parent to the children left behind.
“I think there's a few of us, I'm not too sure how many altogether, but they actually came to my house in September and spent the whole day with me and interviewed me,” she said.
Duperron’s youngest child was dealt a second blow when his father was murdered last summer and now Uchytil-Duperron is raising grandchildren instead of watching her daughter raise them and wondering if she will ever know the full story of how her daughter was murdered.
“We don't really know a whole lot of the details, except that we know that she was kidnapped (in Edmonton) ... that she was taken to Hinton and they tortured her all the way there,” she said. “They beat her severely and they injected her with drugs and then they left her there.”
Duperron’s body was located in May 2019 after one of the five people involved – two of them known to her – confessed to police. He has received immunity and the other four suspects are slated for trial in September 2022, unless all four agree to an offer of 15 years' incarceration with no eligibility for parole.
“I don’t think no (amount) of time is ever enough,” said Uchytil-Duperron. “I think I'll learn to manage better that's probably about it. I don't know what to really think on all of it; just seems so strange.”
She spoke Oct. 4 to the crowd gathered at Riverfront Park about the lack of resources for families who are suddenly torn apart by murder and credits taking counselling courses to help others deal with trauma and grief has helped her.
“That's what I had to do in order to get really deep healing because I found that talking to a counselor wasn't enough for me,” she said. “So, I had to dig deeper, and I put myself into school ... and so I'm trying to work toward being a mental health therapist.”
The documentary is scheduled to be released in February or March of next year.
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