In Cree culture, when someone in the community passes away, it is traditional to hold a round dance once a year for four years to honour them.
Last weekend, the Mikisew Cree First Nation in Fort Chipewyan held the first annual round dance for Amber Tuccaro, a woman whose high-profile missing persons case in 2010 led to police finding her remains two years later south of Edmonton near Leduc. Her murder case is still unsolved.
With dozens showing up for the event Saturday, held in Tuccaro’s home community of Fort Chipewyan, what began as a memorial dance grew into a powerful event shedding light on missing and murdered women in Aboriginal communities.
April Eve, founder of the Stolen Sisters Awareness Movement and a member of the Mikisew Cree First Nation, attended the event and said it was the first time she’s seen a round dance generate so much participation from outside the Aboriginal community.
“I think because Amber’s case was so high profile, the family and the supporters of the family put a lot of pressure on the investigative arm, RCMP and Project KARE. They wouldn’t let Amber’s story just drift off into the back pages of the investigative file,” Eve told The Journal. “They really pushed hard that Amber isn’t just another file. She was a real person, somebody that was loved by many people.”
Speaking on behalf of Vivian Tuccaro, Amber’s mother and the main organizer of the event, Eve said the goal of the round dance was three-fold: to honour and remember the life of the young Tuccaro, who was 20 at the time she went missing; to raise the level of awareness of missing and murdered Aboriginal women; and to plead for justice in the murder case.
“Unfortunately these cases of our women and girls that have gone missing are far too numerous and I think the numbers really do speak for themselves,” she said.
Since 2007, there have been four women missing from the Mikisew Cree First Nation alone, Eve said, including Shirley Ann Waquan, Shelly Dene and Helen Ratfat.
In an effort to make their stories and others like them known, Eve launched the Stolen Sisters Awareness Movement in 2007 from her home base in Edmonton. The grassroots movement’s major initiative has been to hold annual walks raising the profile of missing and murdered Métis, Inuit, non-Status and First Nations women in Canada.
“Amber represents, unfortunately, a large number of others who have gone missing or have been victims of homicide,” Eve said, adding that these cases are not always limited to women. Edward Decoin from the Mikisew community has been added to the missing persons list in Edmonton.
Community events like the round dance are important to bring Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people together in solidarity against the injustice of such disappearances, Eve said, which have been called an underreported epidemic and human rights crisis in Canada.
In late 2013, a United Nations human rights ambassador called on Canada to hold a national inquiry into missing Aboriginal women. The federal government has thus far ignored the call.
Mikisew’s leaders and the community of Fort Chipewyan helped to make sure Tuccaro’s case was not one of the forgotten, Eve said.
“It really does take a community,” she said.
Tuccaro’s is still an unsolved homicide case, but efforts were renewed late last year to find justice. In November, RCMP put up billboards around Leduc with a photo of Tuccaro hoping to catch the eye of anyone with information about the case, particularly in helping to identify a voice recording of a man that is believed to be the last person to have seen Tuccaro alive.
Those with any related information are asked to call Project KARE toll free at 1-877-412-KARE (5273) or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).