Two riveting stories gripped the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Women and Girls Wednesday about the numbers of victims not officially considered missing or murdered.
Virginia Littlewolf-Hunter described a fateful journey from nearly 50 years ago.
She was a 15-year-old girl with her friend Shirley Dillon from Onion Lake First Nation, when they were offered a ride to the nearby town of Lloydminster, which straddles the Alberta-Saskatchewan border, by James Terrance Allan.
After driving a while Allan pulled into a gravel road, stopped the car, got out and opened the trunk. It was Aug. 16, 1971.
“He opened the door where I’m sitting and he’s pointing a gun at me. He tells me to get out,” Littlewolf-Hunter said.
He then tied both girls hands behind their backs. Dillon was at the front of the car, Littlewolf-Hunter at the rear.
“He left me there on the ground and all I could see was the licence plate,” she said.
She listened in “extreme terror” to her friend scream as Allan tried to rape her.
But she found the courage to memorize the car’s licence plate number.
“The whole time I was laying there, I heard an almighty voice saying to me to keep those numbers, remember those numbers,” she told the inquiry.
After a while, Allan left Dillon.
“He came back and grabbed me. He was naked with the gun behind my back,” Littlewolf-Hunter said.
“He tells me to walk . . . and I remember walking real slow,” she testified in an anguished voice that silenced the entire room at the Edmonton Inn.
He forced her to walk into the bush and when they came to a pit he pushed her in.
“In his hand he had a rag and and a can, and he’s spraying me with that can and he put the rag on my face and I’m fighting and I’m screaming and the smell of that rag was horrible,” she said. “I opened my eyes and he sprayed my eyes. And a voice came to me again: he’s trying to kill me. I have to play dead. I just went limp.”
Allan left to torment Dillon again. Littlewolf-Hunter listened helplessly to the screams of her friend. Then she heard him coming back.
“I feel his arm around my neck and he’s choking me,” she said.
She passed out.
“He takes his arm off my neck and leaves me. I can hear the car leaving and I’m laying there trying to regain myself. It seemed like forever. But I told myself: I have to get up. I have to get up!”
With her hands still tied behind her back, Littlewolf-Hunter went to find Dillon.
She found her friend had been hit in the head with a tire iron. “She was bleeding. She had blood all over her face.”
They walked to a nearby farmhouse. She said people were home but they wouldn’t answer the door. So they walked to the next farmhouse.
“That was the longest walk ever. We had no shoes. We were walking barefoot,” she said.
The second farmer called the RCMP. She said her next memory was in the hospital. Dillon needed 20 stitches to close her head wound, while Littlewolf-Hunter had inflamed eyes from the spray.
The plate number allowed police to track down Allan in British Columbia. He was charged with one count each of unlawful confinement and attempted rape. A year later Allan was convicted and sentenced to two years less a day with the sentences served concurrently.
The charges did not reflect the fact that two under-age girls were assaulted. Littlewolf-Hunter called the penalty “appalling.”
“He left us for dead,” she said. ‘He should have been charged with attempted murder, assault causing bodily harm, assault with a weapon, sexual interference.
“Me and Shirley, we suffered discrimination because we’re Indigenous.”
Littlewolf-Hunter says she still suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder almost half a century later. Dillon has seizures and trouble walking and could not attend the inquiry.
Neither of the two were missing or murdered. But the inquiry is hearing their stories are not uncommon. It is impossible to know how many others are out there.
Angeline Willier is another name on the list of not missing or murdered.
She was 72 when her body was located in a ravine near Swan Hills, Alta in 2001.
The founder of the Hinton chapter of the Voice of Native Women and a former employee of Harold Cardinal, in the glory days of the Indian Association of Alberta, left behind a large, loving family.
“I have to accept that I will never know what happened to my mom,” said daughter Adele Willier. “I’m tired. I just have to give it up. I’ll let my sister and my niece carry it on.”
Nancy Chalifoux, the sister, and Petie Chalifoux, the niece, talked about the long, complicated police investigations into Angeline’s death that – 16 years later – have yielded nothing.
She is not officially listed as murdered. The coroner said the reasons for her death were undetermined but related to exposure.
When Angeline went missing it was reported to the Lesser Slave Lake Indian Police, a police service widely disrespected in the region that was replaced by the Lakeshore Police Service in 2008. A little over a week later, her truck was found. Her body was located a kilometre-and-half from the truck.
The family says Lesser Slave Lake police told them they searched the area and did a thorough investigation.
But when the family was taken by police to view the scene and conduct a ceremony, it was the family that made a series of discoveries. They found Angeline’s dentures, a shoe, a bright, red sock filled with grass and twigs, and under a patch of earth that had clearly been recently disturbed, they found the keys to her truck.
A blown-out tire was in the back of the truck; it had recently been changed. The ashtray was full of cigarette butts -even though Angeline was not a smoker and wouldn’t let anyone smoke in the truck – the stash of candies and family photos kept to entertain her grandchildren was gone, there was a dent in the truck that hadn’t been seen by Petie Chalifoux, the last person to see her alive.
Angeline had recently injured her leg and was using a walker and a cane. They were missing. She had many rings, each with a birthstone for her many children and grandchildren. After the autopsy, only one ring was returned to the family. Her purse and knitting bag were also missing and never found.
Perhaps strangest of all, the medical examiner reported the shirt Angeline was wearing was buttoned up inside out. Petie Chalifoux says that was not the case when saw her just before she disappeared.
The family pushed both the Faust, Alberta RCMP and Lesser Slave Lake police to explain these mysterious facts but got nowhere.
A decade after her body was found, workers demolishing an old shelter at a skating rink, found some items from her purse and gave them to the family.
They wondered who left it there.
They took this new information to the Lakeshore Police Service. And say the response they got was exceptional.
Sgt. Dean Syniak got right to work.
“There was a stark contrast in the way we were treated. Night and day,” said Nancy Chalifoux.
But too much time had passed. Syniak reported to the family that all leads had been exhausted and no new information had turned up.
The family blames the earlier police investigators.
“I feel we didn’t matter. We were just Indians,” said Nancy Chalifoux.
Nancy Chalifoux has no doubt there are many cases like her mother’s that are not showing up in the research. So far, there are are believed to be about 1,200 missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada.
“Exactly. That’s what I want the commissioners to hear and understand,” she said in an interview after her testimony “The numbers are so much higher.”