‘Where do you see yourself in 5 years? The majority of them say ‘dead”: KARE on work with indigenous women

Click to play video 'Forgotten Voices Pt 2: Behind the scenes with KARE' Forgotten Voices Pt 2: Behind the scenes with KARE
WATCH ABOVE: What services does Alberta have to help improve the startling number of missing and murdered indigenous women? Erin Chalmers speaks to KARE workers and has the stories of the women affected – Mar 10, 2016

Every week in Alberta, the RCMP KARE unit deals with 50 to 100 missing persons complaints – That’s around 4,000 each year.

Some are kids that are just late coming home from school, but others are much more serious. And sadly, sometimes the person is never found.

“Are they missing because they’re taking a time out from their life at this time and they’re in a safe shelter somewhere?” asked Const. Violet MacFarlane, who is part of the KARE/Pro-Active Team.

“Or are they missing because something happened to them?”

KARE, formerly known as Project KARE, has grown considerably since the unit’s inception in 2003. Around 30 officers are now assigned under Historical Homicide, Missing Persons or KARE/Pro-Active.

WATCH: Forgotten Voices Pt 1: A vicious cycle 

“We spend a lot of our time in jail, in the remand centres, the adult remand and the youth remand,” MacFarlane said. “Just talking to individuals, hearing their stories, where the gaps in services were, what happened to them and seeing if there was anything, looking back, that we could have done to help prevent the path that they were on.”

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“There’s no one answer, no one gap. A lot do say though, they didn’t feel loved, wanted or needed throughout their lives. So that is the key piece.”

A big focus for the Pro-Active Team is on protecting young, vulnerable girls. They’re building relationships and learning names, hoping to be more proactive than reactive. Many of the women and girls they deal with are indigenous.

READ MORE: Murder victim’s family highlights risks faced by aboriginal women

“There are more resources, more education pieces,” Const. Gillian Dunn, who’s part of the KARE/Pro-Active Team, said. “More units within the RCMP so that people in the situations that they are in feel more comfortable coming and talking to police.”

Sadly, many still fall through the cracks.

“We spoke to a girl last week who had been groomed and lured and exploited in the sex trade, and was able to come out on the other end and look backwards,” Dunn said. “She said she had no idea it was a crime.

“She had no idea it was a crime for someone to use her and have her sell her body on the street.

“This is a young 24, 25-year-old girl who is living in 2016 and not aware of what’s illegal and what’s right,” Dunn said. “She just thought it was a job.”

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In 2013 and 2014, 32 indigenous women were murdered in Canada: nine in Alberta. That’s left nine Alberta families in mourning.

“The pain hurts deep inside and it still hurts. It won’t go away,” Robin Whistleblower said.

She has lost both friends and family members. She considers herself one of the lucky ones.

“I come from the streets myself,” she said. “I’m a survivor.”

Governments are working to provide more resources for families, hoping education and awareness will be the difference.

“They mean something to someone,” Whistleblower said. “It’s someone’s sister, it’s someone’s grandmother, cousin, you know, family members.”

“When your loved one has gone and been murdered, it’s a life sentence for the surviving family members,” Kari Thomason, with the Metis Child and Family Services Society, said. “It’s not short term that they’re needing, they need long-term services that are affordable or free.”

As much progress KARE is making, there are still dozens of unsolved cases of missing and murdered indigenous women in our province and even more across the country.

READ MORE: More than 1,200 missing or murdered: Bennett

The federal government is launching a national inquiry into the issue. The pre-inquiry wrapped up in February. The government is now reviewing the input received and will launch the full inquiry once that has been done.