Violence Against Aboriginal Women: Survivor Rinelle Harper Speaks

by Natalia Hadjigeorgiou

After being found unconscious in a freezing Winnipeg river, having survived a near-lethal assault, 16-year-old Rinelle Harper made an influential appearance at the Assembly of First Nations.

Rinelle Harper is the victim of, unfortunately, one out of the many violent attacks that happen yearly against aboriginal women. While she was being hospitalized, her family granted the police homicide squad permission to release her name to the public to search for any information about the assault. Soon after, the police arrested two men and charged them with attempted murder. Her name has become an outcry for a national inquiry into the cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women.

This past August, the body of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine was found in Manitoba’s Red River. Sergeant John O’Donovan of  the Winnipeg police’s homicide unit said, “[Tina Fontaine] has definitely been exploited, taken advantage of, murdered, and put into the river in this condition.” Ms. Fontaine’s death had also sparked an outcry about the treatment of aboriginal women. 

Ms. Harper addressed hundreds of chiefs and delegates at the Assembly of First Nations, where a new leader will be appointed. With a quivering voice and holding the eagle feather given to her by the AFN executive for the courage she demonstrated during and after her attack, the First Nations listened to her emotional plea. Her speech was followed with a standing ovation:

I am Rinelle Harper and I am from the Garden Hill First Nation. I am here to talk about an end to violence against young aboriginal women.

I understand that conversations have been happening all across the country about ending violence against indigenous women and girls. 

Some people who have visited with me have shared their stories of healing. I ask that everyone here remembers a few simple words: love, kindness, respect and forgiveness.

As a survivor, I respectfully challenge you all to call for a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women.


c/o: The Canadian Press/Trevor Hagan

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