Strangers Scour the Land

The search for Maisy and Shannon continues

by Maya Rolbin-Ghanie and Dru Oja Jay

see photo essay –

KITIGAN ZIBI ANISHINABEG–Maisy Odjick, 17, and her friend Shannon Alexander, now 18, vanished from Shannon’s father’s apartment in Maniwaki, Quebec, September 6, 2008. Both are from Kitigan Zibi, an Algonquin reserve adjacent to Maniwaki. Since September, neither the Kitigan Zibi Police Services nor the Sûreté du Québec has collected any evidence pertaining to the whereabouts of the two girls. When Maisy and Shannon vanished, their wallets and their money were left behind. The police are not ruling out the possibility that the two girls are “runaways.” In addition, the police have repeatedly neglected to communicate with and report back to the two families. The little media attention this case has attracted may be attributed to the constant and determined efforts at media outreach by Maisy’s mother, Laurie Odjick.

The two ground searches since the disappearance – December 7, 2008, and May 2, 2009 – were led by Search and Rescue Global 1; both times the Odjick family was the main organizer. According to Search Leader Lawrence Conway, the search for Maisy and Shannon is the first family-organized search he has ever taken part in. Normally, the police call rescue teams and arrange searches.

Indigenous women in Canada are five times more likely than other women to die as the result of violence. The official number of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada since 1980 is 520, two-thirds of whom were murdered and about one-quarter of whom are still missing. Roughly half of these murders and disappearances occurred in the last nine years and over 300 cases are as of yet unsolved. Indigenous grassroots activists and communities put the number of cases closer to 1800.

Amnesty International, the United Nations, and the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) have all put forth comprehensive recommendations to the Canadian government to address the violence and discrimination faced by Indigenous women, but so far no action has been taken beyond a small amount of funding allotted for research.

NWAC President Beverley Jacobs points out that even working with a number like 520, taken proportionately that “would equal 18,000 women among Canada’s white population. If there were 18,000 white women missing and murdered, it would be headlines. There would be something done immediately.”