Well, after a lot of hard work, and not just by me but the entire team, including my man Scott B. Henderson, Betty: The Helen Betty Osborne Story launched on June 2, 2015 at McNally Robinson Booksellers (which is the best bookstore in the world). I was honoured to have my friends, Rosanna Deerchild and Katherena Vermette take part in the launch with me, and was sad that Beatrice Mosionier couldn’t make it due to an injury. But I know she was there in spirit. She said so! It was a heavy night, but I think a hopeful one as well.
Set against the backdrop of the amazing week in Ottawa and the closing of the TRC, there was a determination that was palpable. A clear intent for change. The crowd was fantastic and inquisitive.
I think the best way to address the night is to simply paste my speech here. Yes, I wrote a speech, which I never do, but I had something specific I wanted to say without going off on any tangents. So here it is:
“There are amazing things happening in Ottawa. More Canadians are learning about the residential school system, and missing and murdered Indigenous women, through news outlets and social media, than I can remember. Some of the most troubling statistics are that 1 in 25 children died while attending residential school. This amounts to over 6,000 children dead that we know of. Let’s take a moment to reflect on the children that died, those that survived, and the Indigenous women who have been murdered or have gone missing in this country.
(you can take a moment while you’re reading this to do that, by the way)
In 2008, the number of Indigenous women who had been murdered or had gone missing was thought to be between 600-700. Today, we know that number is closer to 1,700. This morning in Ottawa, calls were made once more for an inquiry into our missing and murdered indigenous women. Calls that, in the past, have been ignored. But despite our government’s refusal to acknowledge an epidemic in this country, we know otherwise.
Tonight, we are all here for one thing and one thing only. We are here to come together and say, “no more.” It happened last year at Oodena Circle as we remembered yet another one of our sisters, Tina Fontaine. We were not divided by culture, gender, age, or economic background. We were one. It is happening in Ottawa this week, and it has happened again tonight. I find a great deal of hope in that….that we have come together, in this place, to be heard.
I wrote Betty’s story…but I don’t own it. Nobody does. These stories are here for us to tell. And I would encourage you to join me in this storytelling. All of you could, indeed should, tell a story. And tell stories in your own way, with your own voice. Through literature, through words, conversation, through art. That is how change happens. We obtain knowledge….truth…we digest it, then we share it. That’s all I’ve done in writing this book. My challenge to you is to read this book, lend it to somebody, and then talk about it….share…because there is always room for more truth in this world.
We do it now so that one day we won’t have to. And we talk a lot about that. About the changes we can make, and how. Murray Sinclair said that we need to move from words to action. That’s true. But I believe, in situations like this, that words are action. The Aboriginal Justice Inquiry talked about the tragedy of inaction when reviewing Helen Betty Osborne’s death and the subsequent investigation. How so many people could’ve changed things if they had only spoken up. There’s a quote I like from Roosevelt:
“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The worst thing you can do…is nothing.”
I believe that to be true.”
So, there it was. Short and to the point, and I hope some of that resonates with you as you read these words. And so far, I think Betty is doing what I hoped it would do, and so much of this is thanks to the strength of her story, but more than that, her spirit. Last week, Betty was the number one bestseller at McNally Robinson Booksellers in the category of Books for Young People. Check it out:
Thank you out there, whether you have bought the book or not. Either way, please continue to share Betty’s story, and the story of all our missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. Part of the fight is knowing what’s happening. The next part is taking action against it by making your voice heard.