Left with vivid memories of a vibrant and gifted sister, Delilah Terriak has pledged to continue where Loretta Saunders’ work left off.
Terriak, a recent addition to Tofino, was called back to the East Coast when her sister was murdered Feb. 13.
A couple who had shared Saunders’ apartment were charged with firstdegree murder after the 26-year-old Saint Mary’s University student’s body was found beside the Trans-Canada Highway in New Brunswick.
Saunders, who was working on her thesis about missing and murdered aboriginal women at the time of her death, was Inuk from Coastal Labrador.
Terriak helped edit her sister’s work, and told the Westerly News on Monday that Saunders’ death has galvanized debate on the plight of aboriginal women across the country.
“This is bigger than us, this is a collective and powerful movement that has been ignored and considered moot for too long,” Terriak said.
The Native Women’s Association of Canada has documented at least 582 occurrences of missing or murdered Aboriginal women and girls. Families and supporters have long voiced calls for justice and complaints that the crimes haven’t been taken seriously enough.
Terriak is seeking support for a federal inquiry and action plan to address the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women, and to increase the safety of Aboriginal women and girls.
“I feel and know people are listening now. Loretta always knew how to make a point and wanted nothing more than to change this system that is so toxic and tragic. Looking at such a beautiful, successful, powerful woman, it’s unfathomable how she could be a victim to a changeable flaw in society,” Terriak said, adding that her sister’s death has raised the level of discussion.
“This sort of awareness is how we take steps to breaking the cycle that makes Aboriginal women so vulnerable,” she said. “We are acknowledging the systematic trap surrounding and initiating such tragic and preventable acts of abuse and homicide.”
There was a note of hope for Terriak on Monday.
“We all are incredibly powerful and adaptable beings and Loretta has helped start a revolution,” she said.
Terriak said she was thankful for the kindness shown to her family.
“The endless love and support is definitely appreciated and making change happen,” she said.
A recent addition to the West Coast, Terriak came to Tofino to work at a resort. Her sister had planned to visit Tofino, and was supportive of Terriak’s dreams for coming west and eventually going to school, Terriak recalled.
She said she intends to continue her sister’s research, and she hopes to write a book.
“I’ve risen to the occasion, found a level of strength, love and drive I didn’t know I could reach. My life has been completely changed, nothing will ever be the same. I lost my best friend but I feel her more than ever,” Terriak said. firstname.lastname@example.org