‘There’s still a lot of emotion’: PAGC Women’s Commission honours the late Shirley Henderson

Guests and dignitaries pose for a photo following a ceremony to honour former PAGC women’s commission chair Shirley Henderson at the river bank on Wednesday. Henderson passed away in December 2023. -- Submitted photo.

Prince Albert residents gathered at the river bank on Wednesday for the annual PAGC walk for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG), but for the first time in its history, Shirley Henderson wasn’t a part of it.

Henderson, the longtime PAGC Women’s Commission chair, passed away on Dec. 29, 2023. On Wednesday, the remaining women’s commission members held a short ceremony in Henderson’s honour before attendees began the walk to Kinsmen Park.

New PAGC women’s commission chair Anita Parenteau said the sorrow over Henderson’s death is still fresh.

“There’s still a lot emotions,” Parenteau explained. “Everyone felt like they were looking for her. She was always there.”

The Prince Albert’s annual Walk for MMIWG was just one area where Henderson helped. She also played a major role in getting the Sisters in Spirit Monument installed on the river bank, and helped domestic violence victims by spearheading efforts for a new women’s shelter in Montreal Lake.

Parenteau described Henderson as someone who was always ready to get involved.

“For the past 20 years, she was the one who was running things, doing the walk, preparing, and everything,” Parenteau explained.

“She did a lot of things.”

Wednesday’s ceremony included comments from a variety of dignitaries such as PAGC Grand Chief Brian Hardlotte and FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron. Families and friends of local women and girls who have gone missing were also in attendance.

Parenteau said it’s good to see so much attention placed on local missing persons cases, especially since it’s not an easy issue for families to talk about.

“We were trying to get some of the families to come up and speak, but it’s not easy to speak about your situation,” she explained. “We did have one family come up and speak about it. They still haven’t found out who murdered their daughter. Those kind of situations, it’s the justice system that needs to step up.”

Parenteau said the issue is getting more attention, and that’s led to some improvements, like the creation of a PAGC search and rescue team. However, she added, there is frustration among families who would like more transparency.

“There’s slowly little things happening, but there could be more,” Parenteau said.

“We just want to let the families know that there is a support system out there for them to come to us if they need to,” she added. “We can try and help them as best as we can.”

Statistics Canada reports 490 Indigenous women and girls were murdered between 2009 and 2021. The rate of homicide against Indigenous women and girls varied from year to year, but was always higher than the rate of homicide against non-Indigenous women and girls.

Stats Canada also reported that Indigenous women were more likely to experience physical and sexual abuse before they turned 15.

The National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains reports that as of 2023, Saskatchewan has the highest number of missing children/youth cases per capita, and the second highest per capita number of missing adult cases.

The Centre reports that 12 per cent of all adults missing in Canada and 23 per cent of all children and youth are Indigenous, however, the Centre also notes that ethnicity is under-reported. For example, 24 per cent of adult missing persons cases were described as “non-white” while 13 per cent contained no mention of biological affinity.

Roughly 33 per cent of adult missing person cases were solved within 24 hours, while 72 per cent were solved within a week. For children and youths, the number was 56 per cent and 90 per cent respectively.