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Indigenous helpline launches to help families when someone disappears

CBC News with Jula Hughes 02 April 2019

A New Brunswick helpline has been set up for families and friends of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

The helpline was launched by the New Brunswick Aboriginal Peoples Council and will be staffed by Gignoo Transition House, an Indigenous safe house based in Fredericton.

Jula Hughes, a law professor at the University of New Brunswick, said the goal was to create something to help families deal with the police at the time someone disappears and with the news media and the justice system.

“How do you assist somebody making that police call? How do you help them prepare for it? How do you help people prepare for the media onslaught that will invariably come about when something becomes, you know, a bad outcome,” said Hughes.

The helpline is part of the larger “Looking Out For Each Other” campaign in Atlantic Canada and Quebec.

Hughes said Indigenous communities have already been doing much of the work helping families of missing and murdered women, and the structure of the helpline came out of consultation with Indigenous organizations.

Amanda LeBlanc, the president of the New Brunswick council, said the catalyst for the helpline was the fear that Atlantic Canada would be ignored during the MMIW crisis.

“Because our numbers are so low compared to the bigger city centres, they think it doesn’t happen,” said LeBlanc.

“Homelessness for example. People don’t see it the way they see it on the streets of Winnipeg, Toronto, Vancouver, but it is very prevalent here. It just looks a lot different. It’s no different with … incidents with missing Indigenous women.”  

Dispelling myths

LeBlanc said Gignoo is key to the operation of the helpline.

“It’s work they’re already doing in the community now,” said LeBlanc.

“They’re helping women and children. They’re already trained in how to receive calls similar to this.”

LeBlanc said the helpline will inform people about what it needed during a missing persons case, provide legal information and dispel myths, such as the myth that you can only report someone missing after 24 hours.

The helpline number is 1-833-MMI-FIND and operates 24 hours a day.