Since the inquiry of into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirits (MMIWGT2S) opened in September 2016 a lifetime has passed for so many families. More than 1,000 families continue to search for their loved ones.
Just years before I began my journey as a reporter I remembered asking myself: “What can I do to help ease the pain?”
Before entering into the journalism program I was enrolled in the Aboriginal Education Program at Mount Royal University (MRU). A Facebook message popped up, and it was Sandra Many Feathers, asking if I would come join the walk in remembrance of her sister Jackie Crazy Bull who was brutally murdered in 2007.
I am a jingle dancer and very much involved in my Native culture. In 2015, Sandra Many Feathers wanted me to dance the Healing Song that day and I agreed. I would continuously hear and see rallies of the MMIWGT2S and wanted to give back to the community. I will never forget that day because when I heard the drum I danced the Healing Song for all the families that had lost their loved ones — it was a special day.
My heart was saddened and yet uplifted at the same time because Jackie Crazy Bull’s grandchildren were there. A young boy who was dressed in his grass dance outfit honourably danced for his grandmother Jackie Crazy Bull. Sounds of the drum beat rhythmically with the young man’s footsteps as he gracefully danced like the tall grasses of the Prairie, a swift and smooth tempo.
I was accepted into the journalism program in 2015. I could’ve chosen any story to work with and among my first three topics was Colton Crowshoe. Ron MacDonald, who was my professor at the time, chose the story of Colton for me to cover. To this day his murder in 2014 has not been solved.
I would work on the article in my first year and it was published by the Calgary Journal, expanding on a deeper issue concerning Murdered and Missing Indigenous Men and Boys. Researching and working delicately, I was determined to be a voice for my people and help share stories through as many media outlets as possible. I would eventually organize a walk for Colton Crowshoe at MRU in 2016.
I could still see many children in my memories and Colton’s face would appear shouting, “There’s Eric’s mom! Where’s Eric?”
I would look down and see Colton’s innocent face.
It’s a terrible tragedy for a parent to lose a child and again I would ask myself, “How can I help ease the pain?”
As I entered my second year of journalism in 2016, I received an email from a radio station. CJSW was looking for Indigenous people to volunteer. I replied and thought to myself: one thing my professor Ron MacDonald taught me was to go out there and take part of every opportunity that comes your way. I wasn’t sure where this was going to take me but I was interested and I will do what it takes to be a voice.
Orientation for CJSW 90.9 FM was at its studios at the University of Calgary. I thought, “Oh my goodness, what did I get myself into?” Feeling nervous entering into CJSW I was greeted by a beautiful lady, Jasmine Retzer, the volunteer co-ordinator. She smiled and made me feel at ease.
“Take a load off,” she said. “We are about to start the orientation, just waiting for everyone to arrive.”
Love that woman’s pizzazz!
That day was splendid and so memorizing because I would always see radio stations on television and never really got the feel of having a tour up close. I was totally intrigued and excited. At the end to the orientation I thought to myself I love it and I don’t care what I will be doing here — I wanted to be a part of any volunteer roles they would have me do. I wanted to take it slow and ease into the radio broadcast life. Fate was knocking at my door and what I thought would be a slow process suddenly hit with a speed of light.
On my third day volunteering, which was once a week, I sat with other volunteers and cleaned records. I sent a copy of my published article to Jasmine before that day and when I walked into the station I was happy to see her smile and she said enthusiastically, “I been thinking about you.”
I thought, cool. Jasmine introduced me to the director Frank Literico and program director Mike Tod. During the meeting, before I knew it, a surge of empowerment came over me and before I could gasp for air, I was handed a show at CJSW to discuss Indigenous issues. Thanks to Jasmine because she told Frank about me and the article on Colton Crowshoe.
I was ready to hear about the format and all the rules and policies that came with hosting a show.
Instead, Frank said, “This is your show and we will be here to help support your project and you can pick your team to help you.”
I was so happy I could’ve kicked my heels at that moment. I thought to myself this is great, I can interview people and share their stories and utilize my skills I learned in my first year of being a journalism student at Mount Royal.
Looking back during the meeting with Frank and Mike, I recalled saying, “I didn’t come into journalism to be quiet, I came to make some noise.”
CJSW’s number one rule is to give a voice to the voiceless and that’s what I love aboutthis campus radio station.
Little did I know I would walk many challenges and have the help of my university professors and people that I would later call friends at CJSW 90.9 FM. With extensive research I reached out to sources, people like Adam Jones from British Columbia who would help me with facts. I talked with many reporters like Judy Porter, who covered the deaths of many Indigenous youths in the Thunder Bay area. Endless sources and everyone was willing to talk to me.
I felt very welcomed at CJSW and to this day I feel very grateful for the respect and genuine humbleness from Frank and Mike. For the first time in my life I can really help my community. With non-bias and an open heart, I began working on the, “Indigenization Across the Nation,” that will cover Aboriginal issues from a universal perspective.
With lots of help from students and fellow Natives from the community, I made my first pod cast dedicated to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Men and Boys, (MMIMB). I loved the enormous support and rallies covering the MMIWGT2S and I dedicated my second and third podcasts to the issue.
I was driven into a new passion that will change my life forever. Radio broadcast is my calling and now at the end of my second year in the journalism program at Mount Royal, I was given another opportunity, this time to host a music podcast, which launched in August.
Coming from an oppressed Nation, living in the residential school system and remembering the very day of its closing on the Kainai Reserve, I can help be a voice and talk about the hardships of being an Aboriginal person. I can help empower my people by sharing their stories and give a platform to all the Indigenous artists, express their gifts and talents.
My purpose is well paved with my ancestors calling and telling me: “Let’s talk and discuss what are solutions and let’s work together with our fellow allies from our non-Indigenous brothers and sisters. Let’s help one another by sharing our stories.”
I can hear my ancestors speaking and whispering.
Finally, please take time to dedicate a moment of silence to the MMIWGT2S and to the all the families.
Grace Heavy Runner is a Mount Royal University journalism student. She hosts “Indigenization Across the Nation” on CJSW 90.9 FM. Go to CJSW.com to listen to her shows and CalgaryJournal.ca to read her work.
Editor: Ian Tennant | firstname.lastname@example.org