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Danielle Ewenin with her granddaughter after testifying at the inquiry in Saskatoon last November.

United Church helps family member who shared her story at MMIW inquiry

Last November, Danielle Ewenin shared her story about her sister, Laney, at the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

By Betty Ann Adam

Years before Eleanore Ewenin froze to death in a field outside Calgary in February 1982, Indian residential schools harmed her parents, and the child welfare system separated her from her family. Danielle Ewenin told the story of her older sister, whom she called Laney, to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Saskatoon last November.

Ewenin recalled that she, Laney and their sister Mona had been placed in a foster home when Laney was about 10. One day, the girls learned Laney would be sent to a different foster home. “In the backyard at that foster home, we had this couch,” Ewenin told the inquiry. “We used it as a playhouse. Eleanore and I were on there, and we promised each other that when we grew up, no matter what, we would find each other.”

By the time they reconnected years later, Laney had lost a finger in one of the homes. Laney also recounted running away from a foster family at 13. “I don’t believe [that] my sister, in her entire life, ever felt safe,” Danielle Ewenin told the commissioners.

Ewenin is an outspoken voice for her family. Last May, she signed an open letter to the national inquiry’s then-lead commissioner, Marion Buller, criticizing the process. In July, the same coalition of families set up a meeting in Ottawa with Buller and Carolyn Bennett, who is now minister of Crown-Indigenous relations and northern affairs. Ewenin felt it was important the government understand the perspective of the families affected by the national tragedy.

She turned to the Aboriginal Ministries Circle of The United Church of Canada for help with travel costs. The caretakers of the church’s Community Capacity Development fund sponsored the $2,238 trip. “We believe in social justice for everyone, including Indigenous peoples,” says Honorine Scott, a member of the Fort Albany First Nation in northern Ontario and the co-ordinator of the fund. “Advocating for awareness of missing and murdered has been part of that.”

“I felt really supported. It was all done very kindly,” Ewenin says. “They understood the need for these concerns to be raised.” Scott sees a clear link between the loneliness and abuse residential school survivors experienced as children and the difficulty many have had expressing love for their children.

“That created another generation of children growing up abused,” Scott says. “Without being taught how to be in good relationships with other people or to address the abuse they were raised with, it just kept going. We call that intergenerational trauma.”

Laney Ewenin struggled with addictions, and her two sons were taken into the child welfare system. “She would go into recovery and tried really hard to bring herself up and be in a place to raise her sons,” Danielle Ewenin told the commission.

The Ewenin family learned of Laney’s death from an RCMP officer. Tracks in fresh snow showed that a vehicle had travelled to an isolated area, where a scuffle occurred before the vehicle left. Footsteps led into a field, and there were signs Laney had fallen twice and continued in the direction of a night-lit building before falling for the final time.

No one was ever charged in relation to Laney’s death, and her family has never been able to obtain the police report or the autopsy report.

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