Almost three years after her death, the memories of a 33-year-old woman from the Beardy’s and Okemasis Cree Nation (BOCN) are still treasured as a memory keepsake for the family and amongst the community members.
“I miss her laugh,” said Martin Cameron, who is the father of Jessica. “It’s still hard to talk about it. It’s like it happened yesterday.”
Jessica is described as someone who was outgoing, friendly and who truly cared for others. She left behind seven children.
“She was friends with everybody. Not only people her age, but younger and older. Even the Elders. I admire her for that,” he said.
On July 6, 2019, Jessica was allegedly killed by her partner on the Cree nation. It was a tragedy that shocked the entire community. Memorials, walks and clothing apparel with Jessica’s name are what her family, friends and community members are doing to keep the memory alive. The family wants to bring awareness to the issue of domestic violence and show everyone that she is never forgotten.
“It’s to (spread) awareness of domestic abuse,” Cameron said. “I have moose hide on my hat … to signify that I am against domestic violence.”
Jamie Smallchild was charged with second-degree murder in the death of Jessica. Police said they were known to be in a domestic relationship. Cameron said Smallchild pleaded guilty and he will have a sentencing hearing on May 18 in the community’s courthouse.
“(We will) be doing impact statements on how it impacted each of us,” he said. “We just want justice and get this over and done with. Over the year, it kept getting adjourned and it had a profound effect on us.”
The community is planning a memorial walk on May 5, the National Day for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW). Cameron said it’s important to carry on his daughter’s legacy for her children she left behind.
It’s the same reason why Lynea George from the George Gordon First Nation will be displaying a red dress outside her front door on May 5 to remember her sister, Keesha Bitternose.
“It’s about bringing awareness about (MMIW),” George said. “With Keesha passing and the way she (died), it’s more important. We’re starting to get her story out and fight for justice for her.”
On Jan. 5, 2020, Bitternose was found dead by Regina Police Service (RPS) at a residence on the 1500 block of Cameron Street around 11 p.m. She was 29 years old and left behind four children.
In November 2021, 21-year-old Kurtis Thomas pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to 18 years in prison. Thomas was one of three men who were charged in connection to Bitternose’s death. Due to a publication ban, details of the facts presented in the sentencing could not be disclosed for the reason of the two accused who are still before the courts.
For every daughter, mother, sister, niece, relative and friend who are considered a MMIW, people across the country will be gathering in different ways to commemorate their lives.
MMIW/Red Dress Day events in Saskatchewan
Many schools across the province hosted MMIW and Red Dress events to commemorate the day. In Regina, the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) launched an updated declaration to honour MMIWG to bring awareness and assert the need for protections from the disproportionate levels of violence.
“We are calling on all levels of government and our First Nations institutions to adopt and uphold the declaration to ensure we are reclaiming power and place,” said FSIN Vice-Chief Aly Bear in a media release. “We need our society, institutions, and workplaces to be safe spaces where we no longer live in fear for ourselves and our family’s safety daily. We need to have these standards upheld so we are given the respect and dignity owed to put an end to the ongoing violence inflicted daily.”
In Regina’s downtown Victoria Park, a MMIW awareness event was held where red dresses hung from trees to signify the lives of Indigenous women who went missing or who died from violence.
In Saskatoon’s Wanuskewin Heritage Park, a full day of events kicked off National Day of MMIW which included beaded dress pin workshops, tipi teachings, jingle dress presentations and poetry reading. The day ends with a candlelight vigil and a smudge walk.