Nobody Listened - PhMuseum

Nobody Listened

Sara Hylton

2017 - Ongoing

Canada

On Sept. 25th, 2013 in Regina, Saskatchewan, Kelly Goforth’s body was found in a red garbage bin wrapped in a hockey back in an industrial area of town. Goforth’s killer, a white male, is known to have killed Richele Bear, another Indigenous woman, and the family suspects he has killed others. Goforth’s death is not an isolated incident in Saskatchewan, one of many areas in Canada struggling with a shameful history of abuse, neglect and indifference towards its First Nations women and people.

Human rights groups estimate that at least 4000 Indigenous women have been murdered or disappeared across Canada. Over the past few months, families have watched the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, which aims to address the root causes of violence against Indigenous women, dissipate amidst controversy, delays, and bureaucracy.

I returned home after 15 years and spent a month traveling across Saskatchewan photographing Indigenous women and community elders. Attempting to cut through the numbers and the desensitized nature in which victims' families are portrayed, the incredible resilience, sisterhood, and strong tradition among communities was revealed.

Through authentic and natural portraiture and evidential landscapes, my aim is to bring the stories of these women to viewers in a humane and intimate way. Exploring the emotional space between loss and healing, women were photographed in locations where they felt closest to their loved ones, hoping to give them a sense of agency. 

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  • Michelle Burns, thirty, sits with her ten-year-old niece, Dannataya, in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. Monica Lee, Dannataya’s mother and Michelle’s twin sister, was murdered in January 2015 by a thirty-eight-year-old white male she had met that night. He received a thirteen-year sentence. “I feel lonesome a lot,” Michelle says. “I have to remember that [Dannataya] is watching me. When I walk, I try to walk with good intentions, so that when she’s older she won’t end up lost. Her mom would want good things for her.”

  • Marcia Bird, Margaret Bird, Aleisha Charles, and Ariel Charles, all between the ages of seventeen and twenty-two, are pictured in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. Happy Charles, the girls’ mother, went missing in April, and some of the daughters have since had vivid dreams about where she might be. They’ve been in touch with the authorities, but with little trust in the police’s ability and willingness to help, the sisters and their grandmother have started a search on their own.

  • Aleisha shows a tattoo dedicated to her mother, whose Cree name is Kokuminahkisis, meaning black widow. According to Regina Poitras, Happy’s mother, her daughter has long been addicted to drugs. She sometimes disappears without warning, but she usually returns home within a week. Months after her most recent disappearance, Happy is still missing.

  • Tracey George Heese sits on buffalo skin in a teepee in Saskatchewan. Heese’s mother, Winnifred George, was found dead on an Edmonton park bench over twenty years ago. “I think of all the buffalo that were slaughtered [here],” Heese says. “Are Aboriginal women to be sacrificed as the buffalo have? Not enough is being done, the Canadian system is derailing us.”

  • The sun rises over Qu’Appelle Valley, seventy-five kilometres northeast of Regina. Here, in 1874, the Cree and Saulteaux peoples signed over 75,000 square miles of land to the Crown under Treaty Four.

  • Mary Tremblay walks among trees in La Ronge, Saskatchewan. In 2005, Mary’s sister, Julie Houghton, was found dead in a ditch along the highway between Quinton and Raymore. To this day, Tremblay's family still doesn't know what happened to Houghton before her death. According to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, 33 cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women remain unsolved in Saskatchewan, but numbers are likely to be much higher. “I wish women and children would stop being abused…I would like to find the man who killed my sister.”

  • Gwenda Yuzicappi and her adopted granddaughter, Leslie Maple, are pictured outside of their home on Standing Buffalo First Nation northeast of Regina, Saskatchewan. Yuzicappi’s daughter and Maple’s caregiver, Amber Redman, went missing in 2005 until her remains were located in Little Black Bear First Nation almost three years later. Redman was beaten to death by two white men after a late night out. Maple was only five at the time. “[Leslie] was Amber’s way of seeing what was going to happen to her. Leslie was my strength [when Amber went missing], she would soothe me and pet my hair. If it wasn’t for Leslie…I don’t know where I’d be.” This was Maple’s first time discussing the murder of Redman, who goes to school with the daughter of one of Redman’s killers.

  • Tracey George Heese’s eagle feather and buffalo rawhide belt, symbolic items she uses in ceremony and traditional dance, sit atop buffalo skin. “Being initiated into the powwow circles has helped me dance forward in life, to claim back my identity…to dance for those who cannot dance” said Heese. Her mother, Winnifred George, was murdered and discovered next to a park bench in Edmonton, Alberta over twenty years ago. Tracey has since become active in speaking out on the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women. “It is known when holding eagle feathers to speak only Truth…for me the MMIW [movement] is to bring awareness for those that can no longer speak.”

  • Elder Florence Isaac is pictured in her home in Regina, Saskatchewan. As a residential school survivor, Ms. Isaac is no stranger to shame and trauma as a result of violence and abuse: “we’ve kept the hurt inside, we’ve packed it, we’ve packed it, we’ve packed it, now that it’s time to bring it up, it’s shameful” said Elder Isaac. “I feel sorrow. Justice is not really being served to these women…especially when it’s an Indian….if this was a white, it would be a different story. It’s discrimination. This issue [of missing and murdered women] has been going on for a long time, but as I said, nobody listened.”

  • Wood burns in preparation for a sweat lodge on the outskirts of Regina, Saskatchewan. Many women facing the loss of a loved one have turned to sweat, ceremony and traditional teachings. “The healing started from that first sweat. I sweat for four days,” said Gwenda Yuzicappi, whose daughter’s remains were found on Little Black Bear First Nation on May 7th, 2008. “I still need all those ceremonies."

  • A little girl plays on the outskirts of Regina, Saskatchewan at Elder Archie Weenie’s healing center as her mother participates in a sweat lodge. Elder Weenie holds sweat lodges and pipe ceremonies, and offers traditional teachings as a path to healing. Many people who participate, including adults and children, have been lost in trauma.

  • Diane BigEagle is pictured with her grandchildren, Cassidy and Talon, and their cat, Waffles, in the family’s favourite park in Regina. BigEagle’s daughter, Danita, disappeared over ten years ago, and BigEagle has been caring for Danita’s children ever since. “I want them to be happy,” she says. “When I get depressed, they get depressed. I have to make them think [Danita] is somewhere out there…that she’s coming back.”

  • Shayleen Goforth, twenty-seven, stands near Wascana Lake, where she used to spend time with her sister, Kelly. In September 2013, Kelly’s body was found in hockey bag, left in a garbage bin in an industrial area of Regina. The killer was a white man, a stranger to Kelly, named Clayton Bo Eichler; in September 2016, he was convicted of killing Kelly and another Indigenous woman named Richele Bear. “I had to forgive him to feel peace within myself,” Goforth says. “I was so sick. I went to my elder and I had a good sweat and a smudge, and I asked God, ‘Help me forgive the man who killed my sister.’”


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