Indigenous women are taking to TikTok and other social-media platforms to cast the spotlight on unsolved cases of missing and murdered members of their community, and to find new leads in cases they allege have not been properly investigated by the police.
They are posting TikTok videos highlighting unsolved murders and disappearances and asking people to come forward with tips on sightings of missing Indigenous women, fresh information about homicides and the location of buried bodies.
Indigenous women are 12 times more likely to be murdered or go missing than other women in Canada, and 16 times more likely to be killed or disappear than white women, according to a 2019 public inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women.
The report cited research from Statistics Canada showing Indigenous women and girls accounted for almost a quarter of female homicide victims between 2001 and 2015.
Vanessa Brousseau, whose sister Pamela Holopainen went missing almost 20 years ago from Schumacher, Ont., says she is posting on TikTok to raise awareness of her disappearance, partly because of lack of progress by Timmins police.
She has posted a host of videos about her sister on her TikTok channel @resilientinuk, which has received 2.7 million likes. In one video posted last month, which got 6,281 likes, she says “someone out there knows something about my missing sister. Help bring Pam home.”
The public servant, who recruits Indigenous translators for the federal government, told The Globe and Mail: “I truly believe that somebody out there knows what happened to my missing sister Pamela. "
She accused Timmins police of “not doing enough, if anything” to solve the case.
Marc Depatie, a spokesman for Timmins police, said it is still investigating the disappearance, adding that “a comprehensive investigation took place to determine the circumstances of her disappearance that included a great deal of police resources” after it was first reported.
He said the police would “eagerly welcome any new or clarifying information pertinent to this investigation.”
Raven Hall – whose aunt Tanya Holyk is believed to have been murdered by Vancouver serial killer Robert Pickton after her DNA was found at his pig farm – has highlighted multiple unsolved murders of Indigenous people on her @rave604 TikTok channel, as well as missing-persons cases dating back to the 1970s.
They include the disappearance of 16-year-old Tammy Nattaway in July, 2020, from the Garden Hill fly-in community around 475 kilometres north of Winnipeg. Though a coat and shoes thought to belong to Ms. Nattaway have been found, the teenager has not been located. Ms. Hall asks for help solving the case, saying her family still holds out hope of finding her.
In another video post she highlights the disappearance of Drew Ballantyne, an Indigenous man who went missing last July from Prince Albert, Sask. Along with numbers to call with tips, she highlights a $5,000 reward and asks for information about the “exact location where Drew’s body is.”
Ms. Hall, who is Tsimshian Xai’xais from Klemtu, B.C., said she was using her platform to amplify the voices of missing people’s families and “to highlight the injustice that is faced daily in systems not meant for Indigenous peoples.”
Melissa Swinamer has highlighted multiple missing-persons cases on her TikTok channel, Stolen Sisters and Relatives @JelloOcean2.0, including deaths not deemed suspicious by the police.
Ms. Swinamer, who is part Indigenous, expressed concern that clusters of missing and dead Indigenous women in some areas are not being investigated together. She often asks people with fresh information to call Crime Stoppers.
Among the cases she has highlighted is that of Chelsea Poorman, a 24-year-old Cree woman found dead outside an empty mansion in Vancouver’s affluent Shaughnessy neighbourhood last year.
Deanne Hupfield from Thunder Bay, who also posts on TikTok, said many Indigenous people don’t trust the police to properly probe deaths and disappearances.
Ms. Hupfield, a member of the Temagami community, said police “jump to conclusions, they make assumptions, they don’t investigate” and one friend of hers collected evidence of a family member’s murder herself, to try to prompt the police to pursue the case.