Early in the morning on a bitterly cold day, a teenage boy who had been following rabbit tracks found Helen Betty Osborne’s body. She’d been stabbed 57 times, and beaten so badly that her face was unrecognizable. It was November 13, 1971.
Soon after the gruesome discovery, the crime scene buzzed with RCMP officers. The town buzzed, too, about a young Indian girl who’d been murdered. But soon the noise quieted, and for the next sixteen years, questions about Betty’s death were met with a deafening silence.
We know now that Betty was kidnapped and murdered by four young men from The Pas, Manitoba. We also know that, eventually, only one man went to jail for her murder. How could an entire community stay silent for so long? How could four young men get away with such a horrific crime against a young woman—a woman who had dreams just like you and me? We know more about Betty’s murder today than we knew in 1971. But we still understand little. How could a life be so undervalued? Was it because of her gender? The colour of her skin? Why? We are still asking these questions—almost 45 years later.
In August 2014, Tina Fontaine, wrapped in a plastic bag, was pulled from the Red River in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Tina and Betty are only two of almost 1200 Indigenous women who have been murdered or gone missing in Canada since 1971. Betty Osborne’s story is more relevant today than it every was. And there is also more hope today for some answers than there ever was.
On August 20, 2014, I took part in a march for Tina Fontaine in Winnipeg with more than 1,000 people from different genders, social classes, colours, and cultures. Under the dwindling light at The Forks and just yards away from a monument honouring missing and murdered Indigenous women, we listened, prayed, and cried together. As one, we shouted for change.
While we still have many questions, the time for silence has passed. We all want answers. I want answers. This is why I decided to write Betty: The Helen Betty Osborne Story.
If you would like more information about murdered and missing women in Canada please visit www.nwac.ca and www.ammsa.com.
My upcoming graphic novel, Betty: The Story of Helen Betty Osborne, is illustrated by Scott B. Henderson and is expected to be available summer 2015. If you would like to be notified when Betty is available, please email your name to [email protected]
All my best,