Skip to main content

Rinelle Harper, pictured in her hotel bed in Winnipeg in November, is set to address the AFN’s three-day meeting.LYLE STAFFORD/The Globe and Mail

The Winnipeg teen who was sexually assaulted and left for dead last month has addressed an audience for the first time at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, where she highlighted the issue of murdered and missing aboriginal women and asked listeners to remember four virtues: "Love, kindness, respect and forgiveness."

Rinelle Harper, the 16-year-old aboriginal girl who survived a gruesome attack near the city's Assiniboine River, delivered brief remarks at the Family First Forum, an event organized by Manitoba chiefs to help address violence against native women.

"I understand that conversations have been occurring all across the country about ending violence against indigenous women and girls," the teen said in her prepared remarks for the forum. She will address the Assembly of First Nations today.

"I wish to continue on with my life, and I am thankful that I will be able to go back to school, to see my friends and be with my family," Ms. Harper said.

Her mother, Julie Harper, said Monday evening her daughter was still working on the speech she is slated to deliver on Tuesday at the AFN's three-day meeting, but said the comments will build upon what was said at the museum.

Ms. Harper barely survived the Nov. 8 assault, nearly becoming one of the more than 1,180 aboriginal women who have been killed or gone missing in Canada between 1980 and 2012 – a number gleaned from a recent RCMP report that has spurred renewed calls for a national inquiry into the problem. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has dismissed those pleas, saying the tragedies are not part of a "sociological phenomenon" but are rather crimes best handled by police.

While Ms. Harper's parents maintain the girl's case is distinct from that of Tina Fontaine, the native teen whose body was pulled from Winnipeg's Red River in August, they understand where their daughter fits into the startling trend of violence against aboriginal women.

Ms. Harper's mother said her soft-spoken child warmed up to the crowd on Monday, but was at first nervous about addressing what she estimated to be about 100 people.

Grand Chief David Harper, a relative of the teen's who represents 30-odd northern communities, said the speech was a "test-run" for her remarks at Tuesday's AFN meeting – a high-profile event taking place near the intersection of the two rivers where Tina and Ms. Harper were brutalized.

"She was nervous at the beginning and kind of shy," Grand Chief Harper said. "We had to turn the mic up, but she did good."

Ms. Harper, who is from Garden Hill First Nation but is a boarding student at Winnipeg's native-run Southeast Collegiate, expressed her appreciation for the outpouring of support. "I am thankful for the thoughts and prayers from everyone," she told the forum. "Some of the people who visited with me have shared their stories of healing."

The teen's remarks culminated with a simple request: "I ask that everyone here remembers a few simple words. Love, kindness, respect and forgiveness."