*Warning: article contains graphic content* Northerners added their voice to the national movement calling for justice for Cindy Gladue last Thursday, coming together in Yellowknife to pray, drum and march in memory of the indigenous woman whose death and the resulting court decision sent shockwaves across the country last month.
Gladue, a First Nations sex worker and 36 year-old mother of two, bled to death in a hotel bathtub in Edmonton in 2011.
Two weeks ago, the man accused of killing her – Ontario trucker Bradley Barton – was found not guilty by a jury, the acquittal sparking outrage in a nation where calls for action on missing and murdered indigenous women have grown loudly over the past several years.
Last Thursday, Crown prosecutors announced they would be appealing the decision as cities across Canada held a national day of protest in honour of Gladue.
Yellowknife marchers joined together Thursday morning by Frame Lake for a feeding of the fire ceremony, prayers and drumming before marching to the courthouse and ending with a community potluck at the Baker Centre.
March organizer Charlotte Overvold said the impact of Gladue’s death, like all indigenous women who have gone missing or been murdered, affects her personally and demands action, both at the community and national level.
“I’ve met and helped girls who grew up into sex workers; I’ve known girls who have gone missing,” she said. “My own birth mother ended up almost becoming missing and murdered after she was abducted and brutally assaulted. It’s through her strength and courage that she’s here today, but at the same time something was taken from her. I carry that around.”
Overvold said the numbers of impacted women and families have “skyrocketed” over the past decade to become a national issue needing immediate government response in the form of an inquiry and subsequent action.
“Almost every person I know knows someone who is missing or murdered,” she said. “Cindy was loved, and so were all the other women and girls who went missing. It’s happening across Canada; it happens up here in the North. It’s not just on the Highway of Tears; it’s so much bigger than that. On a community level, the North should be supporting this. They should be demanding answers and they should be demanding justice.”
Many were outraged by the way Gladue’s body was presented during the month-long trial, where her preserved pelvic area was brought in to physically show the 11-centimetre wound in her vaginal wall that caused her death.
While prosecutors argued the wound was caused by a weapon, the defence said it was the result of “consensual, rough sex” without intention to harm.
The jury found Barton not guilty of first degree murder or manslaughter.
Indigenous communities have since criticized the makeup of the jury, which was dominated by men and did not feature a single indigenous person. There were also concerns about evidence being excluded from the trial, including violent pornography on Barton’s laptop that showed women being tortured.
Overvold said the jury’s verdict sends a “horrifying” message to indigenous women across the country about the value of indigenous women’s lives and the efficacy of the justice system in defending them.
“It’s an outrage. It’s unsettling and kind of scary, because how many of us could be subject to that form of so-called justice, which is unjust?” she said. “The way the evidence was presented and their verdict does not make sense. It’s not okay. It must be so hard on her family to watch that person walk free.”
Apart from bringing awareness to a human rights issue, Overvold said the march was also about honouring Gladue and other missing and murdered women.
“We’re walking in memory of her, of all of our fallen sisters,” she said. “We’re saying we’re going to remember them and never going to forget them. And it’s to send prayers to all the families that have been affected by the missing and murdered women that we loved so much.”