Ian McKay was working late at the Keewaywin First Nation airport when the community’s chief gave him news of his daughter Ashley McKay’s homicide in Thunder Bay last fall.
To this day, emotion seizes McKay’s voice when he remembers.
“The pain, it’s so big at times. Life has stopped,” said McKay, in a telephone interview with CBC News.
“There are no words to express how to say it.”
Ashley McKay is one of more than 130 Indigenous women and girls who have been killed, whose death has been deemed suspicious or who died in institutional care since the national inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls began its work on Sept. 1, 2016, according to figures in a database provided to CBC News.
The database, compiled by Kristen Gilchrist-Salles, a researcher who works with the grassroots group Families of Sisters in Spirit, includes deaths that were confirmed as homicides, suspicious deaths and deaths in police custody or while in the care of the child welfare system.
The data is based on open-source information such as news articles.
‘It’s still happening’
McKay, 25, was found dead inside an apartment building in Thunder Bay on Oct. 30. Three people are awaiting trial in connection with her homicide.
She left behind six sisters and two brothers.
Ian McKay said Ashley was the first of his children to graduate from high school. She was thinking about going to cooking school or being a pediatrician.
“She had goals and dreams,” he said. “I am so proud of her. She will always be in my heart and my thoughts.”
Gilchrist-Salles said the number of cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls cases shows the pattern of violence remains consistent despite the advent of the inquiry and the added publicity of the disproportionate level of violence faced by Indigenous women and girls.
“I can tell you it’s still happening and it doesn’t seem like it’s slowing down in any capacity,” said Gilchrist-Salles.
“Things are not improving … Despite these awareness campaigns, at the same time, these deaths are continuing.”
The inquiry’s final report, which concluded that murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls were victims of a wider genocide, said it could not determine a count for the number of MMIWG cases over the decades and across the country.
The report questioned the RCMP’s numbers, released in 2014, that determined there were 1,017 homicides and 164 disappearances of Indigenous women and girls between 1980 and 2012.
The RCMP numbers were based on the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics Homicide Survey, the Canadian Police Information Centre and the RCMP’s own files.
The report said there were problems with the accuracy of data inputted in both databases which left “identification of Indigeneity to the discretion of individual police officers.” The inquiry said the numbers in the 2014 RCMP report “likely underestimate the true numbers.”
Another database counts 359 MMIWG cases since 2015
Sovereign Bodies Institute, a California-based non-profit organization which focuses on “community-engaged” research on gender and sexual violence against Indigenous people in the U.S. and Canada, provided its own figures to CBC News.
The institute’s database counts 1,724 confirmed MMIWG cases in Canada dating back to the 1900s. Over 75 per cent of the cases were recorded after 1980 and the numbers rise the closer they get to present day because records are more readily available, said Annita Lucchesi, executive director of the institute.
The institute recorded 359 MMIWG cases between 2015 and 2019, including 167 involving homicide, death in custody and suspicious death, with 19 tallied so far this year.
It also recorded 192 cases of missing persons in the same time span, with 16 recorded so far this year.
The number of missing persons cases in the database fluctuates based on when an individual is found. It also includes “unknown cases” where an individual is removed from a missing persons database at some point but no evidence exists to determine whether they were found or are deceased.
According to the institute, Alberta had the highest number of MMIWG cases between 2015 and 2019 with 93, followed by 65 in Ontario, 61 in Saskatchewan, 56 in Manitoba and 38 in British Columbia.
“I haven’t seen any decrease in violence,” said Lucchesi, who is Cheyenne and a PhD candidate at the University of Lethbridge in cultural, social and political thought.
Luchessi, who is a survivor of domestic violence and human trafficking, said there are similar patterns of MMIWG cases in Canada and the U.S., where her database has compiled 2,049 cases.
“There is a huge problem with the lack of safety and appropriate systems for our youth,” said Luchessi.
“There are teen girls entered and deleted — missing and found — in the database who have gone missing 60 times…. Some of the more prominent cases in the database that have gone missing as adults actually went missing as children 10 or 15 years ago.”