On may 2nd, the search for Maisy Odjick and Shannon Alexander continued, on the Kitigan Zibi reserve, 8 months after the two girls went missing. The search was organized by the Odjick family, with the help of Amnesty International, which donated 2 buses to help transport volunteers from Ottawa who wished to help with the search. The two buses were filled, and many more showed up on top of that. All in all, over 240 people came to help scour the woods around the reserve for any clue at all that might lead to answers. Four member of the Missing Justice collective in Montreal attended.
The search was led by Search and Rescue Global 1, a pro-search team run entirely by volunteers. The SAR team was overwhelmed by the number of volunteers, so some people had to wait in the community hall for their turn to join a search team.
We were divided into groups of 15-20 people, with 2 team leaders. Everyone had a stick of some kind to help them push aside some of the thick brush that we would encounter. We lined up for instructions: we were to yell ‘stop ‘ along with a number we had been given whenever we saw anything that might be a clue. A clue could be anything at all: a beer bottle, a piece of cloth, strange litter, anything.Then, a team leader would come and find us, look at the clue, and maybe choose to radio it in.
At times distracted by nightmarish visions of what we might find, at times pre-occupied with getting through the insanely thick bush unscathed, we walked through the woods, in as straight a line as possible given the fact that we were supposed to go through all obstacles as opposed to around them. There were a few times when we lost site of the people beside us, but it was never long before someone yelled ‘stop.’
Nothing of interest was found, and even with 240 volunteers searching from early morning until dark, only a small fraction of the land was covered. Talking to people during breaks, and while eating, revealed that people had very different political backgrounds and ideas about violence against First Nations women, and about Maisy and Shannon’s case in particular, but the common link was always: it’s horrible; answers are need. We were extremely well-fed that day, as numerous volunteers from the community had generously prepared mountains of food for us all. It struck me, how every aspect of the search was volunteer-run, except for the few police who were hanging around.
I spoke to a member of the Search and Rescue team who has been helping with searches for 5 years now. This case is not the first missing woman case he has taken part in, but it is the first missing person case of Indigenous women. He also said that usually the police are the ones to get a hold of their search team, and the ones behind most of the organizing, but that in this case, it was the all the family members themselves. I asked how rare this was and he said that it was the first search he had done where the family had been the ones to contact them directly.
Laurie Odjick, Maisy’s mother has publically condemned police negligence and incompetence in this case.
I later spoke to an SQ officer who does not see any difference in the way cases of Indigenous women are treated; he does not see any racism in the police force.
“We’re not playing the race card,” he said.
He would not volunteer any information about the case, except to say that they were keeping all options open, including the possibility that the girls ran away, inspite of the fact that their wallets, cash included were left behind when the disappeared. Further, their cases are being looked at separately to a certain degree in spite of the fact that they were last seen together and that they disappeared at the same time.
Towards the end of the search that day while we were sitting around taking a break, a man that several us admitted later to wanting to talk to, revealed his identity. Before that, he had been keeping to himself, and seemed to want it that way. But when I finally asked where he was from, he told us that he was Maisy’s dad. He lives in Six Nations now, but had come for the search. He looked very young, and he also looked very tired.
We were all quiet for a while then, and he left soon after to get some rest.