The day I walked by Maisy

It was a chilly day in late 2008 and I was walking along Rideau St. in Ottawa. I was in a hurry - head down, and feet moving quickly past the others sauntering along the sidewalk. I was also in a terrible, no-good mood. I can't even tell you now what had me so upset. Probably something trivial.

Up ahead I saw several people with flyers, attempting to stop pedestrians.

No way, I thought. Not today.

I assumed the people were going to try to sell me something. So I plowed ahead, and when a young girl attempted to hand me a flyer, I snapped at her; "I'm late!"

In a flash, I saw a young girl's face on the poster. It was the face of Maisy Odijck, a 16 year-old Indigenous girl who had gone missing. No amber alert had been issued. No search party had been sent out. Just those lone people on Rideau, trying desperately to reach out to those of us passing by.

A young girl was missing. And I walked right by.

This memory came flooding back to me this morning as I sat on the 174 listening to Dawn Harvard (President of the Native Women's Association of Canada) talk about her child's innocent questions after an interview Dawn had given. "We're Native, right? Does that mean I'm in danger Mommy?" I could hear the emotion in Dawn's voice as she talked about her struggle to answer her young child.

From an article by Dawn on Today's Parent:

"On a general level, the devaluation of Aboriginal girls and women, the impacts of systemic racism and the lingering effects of the residential school system have also contributed to the high rate of Aboriginal girls and women who have been murdered or remain missing.

Decades of silence on this issue have allowed it to continue. While the media has begun to draw attention to the problem, parents—both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal—must start the difficult conversations about racism, discrimination and historic oppression if we are to break the ongoing cycles of sexual and physical violence." 


After I saw the flash of Maisy's face on the poster, my steps slowed. I realized that the people on the street were not trying to sell me something. I now know they were doing the job of our police, and our society - taking on the burden of finding a girl who had essentially been abandoned.

I turned around and ran back. I apologized to the young girl, and asked to see the poster. I looked right in Daisy's eyes and took in her general appearance. I told the girl I would keep my eyes and ears open. Then I walked away, and tears fell down my face. 

I knew I would not find this young girl, and that most likely, no one would. It's been 7 years, and she's still missing.

Yesterday our government announced the first phase of a public inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women. They plan to meet with parents in the coming weeks with the goal of hearing their views and what they want to see come out of an inquiry. I think of Maisy's mom, and wonder whether this offers her any comfort.

As parents, we have a duty to stop 'walking by.' It's time to start a conversation with our girls and boys. I know we're years too late, and we'll never get that back. But that doesn't excuse us from moving forward.

How do you talk about racism and oppression with your child?