Assembly of First Nations honours Rinelle Harper who calls for national inquiry

A Manitoba teenager who was viciously assaulted and left for dead by the side of a river has added her voice to the call for a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women.

WINNIPEG — A Manitoba teenager who was viciously assaulted and left for dead by the side of a river has added her voice to the call for a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women.

“I am Rinelle Harper and I am from the Garden Hill First Nation,” the 16-year-old said tentatively as she stood in front of the Assembly of First Nations on Tuesday. “I am here to talk about an end to violence against young (aboriginal) women.”

The assembly was honouring her with a drumming ceremony at the start of a three-day meeting in Winnipeg.

“I ask that everyone here remembers a few simple words – love, kindness, respect and forgiveness,” Rinelle told the crowd as her parents and older sister stood by her. “As a survivor, I respectfully challenge you all to call for a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women.”

The teen thanked everyone for the support she has received since she was attacked. Rinelle was out celebrating the end of her midterm exams in Winnipeg when she became separated from her friends.

She met two young men and the trio walked down to the Assiniboine River. There, police say, she was brutally attacked and ended up in the river. When she crawled out of the frigid water further upstream, police say she was attacked again and left for dead.

Two males, age 20 and 17, were arrested almost immediately after Rinelle’s family agreed to release her name. They face charges of attempted murder and sexual assault. They are also accused of aggravated sexual assault on a 23-year-old woman later that same night.

Rinelle somehow survived and has been called a hero by some for escaping the fate of hundreds of other missing and murdered aboriginal women. During the ceremony, she was presented with an eagle feather representing continued strength and courage.

Rinelle, who has only spoken publicly a few times since the attack, was visibly nervous as she addressed the crowd of about 400.

“I understand that conversations have been happening all across the country about ending violence against indigenous women and girls. I wish to continue on with my life,” she said, reading carefully from a prepared speech. “I am thankful that I will be able to go back to school, see my friends and be with my family.”

The issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women is high on the agenda at the assembly’s gathering, along with the election of a new national chief. With a federal roundtable on the issue expected early in the new year, chiefs and delegates are devising a strategy.

A landmark RCMP report earlier this year found 1,181 aboriginal women have disappeared or have been murdered since 1980. Although aboriginal women make up 4.3 per cent of the Canadian population, they account for 16 per cent of female homicides.

Rinelle’s ordeal, as well as the death of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine, has prompted renewed calls for action.

“We must learn from her story and say loudly and clearly, ‘Not one more’,” Cameron Alexis, the AFN’s Alberta regional chief, told the assembly.

Grand Chief David Harper, who represents Manitoba northern First Nations and is related to Rinelle, said the teen is coming to grips with what she now represents to so many. At first, Harper said, the teen was reluctant to speak, but “now she is starting to understand why she has to speak out.”

Elders have told Rinelle that she has been given “a gift,” he said.

“A gift for those who cannot speak for themselves, those who have passed on,” Harper said. “You’re the voice for them.

“This is why she is doing what she has to do now. Even though she didn’t want it, it is given to her.”

Just Posted

Sport of axe throwing growing in Red Deer

True North Axe Throwing wants sport to be ‘Canadian version of darts’

Optimism remains for Red Deer hospital expansion

Red Deer’s incoming UCP MLAs both have been strong supporters of expansion

RDC cancels championship-winning golf program due to tight finances

Short season, small number of student golfers were also considerations

Fire investigators comb through industrial fire wreckage looking for answers

Industrial building in north Red Deer was completely gutted in Wednesday morning fire

WATCH: An ‘Eggstemely Fun Easter’ at Bower Place in Red Deer

Bower Place mall made sure Red Deer families were able to have… Continue reading

Notre Dame rector: “Computer glitch” possible fire culprit

PARIS — A “computer glitch” may have been behind the fast-spreading fire… Continue reading

Former journalist pleads guilty to robbing two banks in Medicine Hat

MEDICINE HAT, Alta. — A former journalist arrested almost two years ago… Continue reading

Austria fears for three top climbers missing in Banff National Park

BERLIN — Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said Friday his thoughts are with… Continue reading

As Vancouver fights over 4-20, Seattle’s Hempfest enjoys tolerance, some support

VANCOUVER — They both came from humble beginnings: small protests against marijuana… Continue reading

All eyes on the surging Greens as Prince Edward Island goes to the polls

After a brief provincial election campaign devoid of drama, voters on Prince… Continue reading

North Dakota company where 4 were slain seeks normalcy

MANDAN, N.D. — Camaraderie was so important for the “coffee club” at… Continue reading

Trump blasts ex-advisers who say he tried to stop Mueller

WASHINGTON — A day after celebrating the release of the Mueller report… Continue reading

Sanders claims she didn’t lie, despite Mueller finding

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s spokeswoman Sarah Sanders pushed back Friday against… Continue reading

Most Read