Advocate for missing and murdered women calls for Indigenous Amber Alert system

Amber alert

'Anytime in Indigenous person goes missing, there is a National Amber Alert. It needs to be built,' says Stephanie Harpe. Photo: Chris Stewart/APTN.

Stephanie Harpe has experienced violence first hand. To start, her mother, Ruby Anne McDonald, was murdered in 1999 and her killer has never been brought to justice.

Not long after her mother’s murder, Harpe was attacked from behind on an Edmonton street.

He caught her in a choke hold from behind. She said she thought she was going to die.

She said she fought off the attacker with her nail file and then ran to a convenience store, losing her shoes on the way.

She asked the employee to call 9-1-1 and ask for help. She says she was in no condition to talk herself.

Harpe said the operator asked the employee what nationality she was. “I’m Aboriginal,” she said.

“And they never came, followed up. I waited there.”

She walked home in her bare feet thinking the police didn’t care.

Watch Chris’ story on Stephanie Harpe here:

Harpe, who identifies as Cree, Dene and Metis, believes the police didn’t do a full investigation of her mother’s death because she was Indigenous.

She called the following years after her mother’s death a dark period that included alcohol, drugs and gangs.

Harpe said she did get clean and became an advocate for murdered, missing and exploited Indigenous Peoples.

She has worked for the Institute of the Advancement of Aboriginal Women, advised the Edmonton Police on how to better engage with Indigenous people, visits communities to tell her story, and has participated in many rallies to advocate for missing, murdered and exploited Indigenous peoples.

Harpe has hosted a Ted Talk and speaks at seminars to help prevent violence.

When she was 18, she was discovered by the late blues legend Jeff Healey. She founded her first band as the lead singer in 2005 and the Stephanie Harpe Experience has opened for Tom Cochrane and Blue Rodeo.

Two decades since her mother’s murder and her unprovoked attack, Harpe said not much as changed with how the police treat Indigenous Peoples.

With her years of advocacy, she says not much has changed with how the police treat Indigenous people.

“Here we are back then, and here we are today,” she told APTN News. “Hopefully, we see more change here.”

Harpe said there are ways to help lower the numbers of missing, murdered and exploited people.

Language, culture, tradition need to be elevated higher in people’s consciousness.

“Human trafficking is one of the fastest growing crimes in Canada. And it’s not at the forefront of anything,” she said.

One idea Harpe has and wants to implement is a national, fully funded Amber Alert system for missing Indigenous people.

“Anytime in Indigenous person goes missing, there is a National Amber Alert. It needs to be built.”

Harpe said she’ll be asking Indigenous and non-Indigenous leaders to support that plan.

The Stephanie Harpe Experience will be playing at the Together Again concert series this August in Edmonton, featuring Dean Brody, Blue Rodeo and more.

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