What started as a basic search for numbers on missing and murdered Indigenous women has changed the path of one woman’s life.
Annita Lecchesi is a PhD candidate in the University of Lethbridge’s Cultural, Social and Political Thought program. Three years ago, she was looking for information on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada and the U.S. for a mapping project. But she had trouble finding complete and accurate data.
Since then, she has compiled information from missing persons websites, police records, historical archives, news articles, social media and even spoken with family members who have lost loved ones, to create an online database.
Lecchesi said she has currently logged over 3,000 cases, some reaching as far back as 1900. The database also includes information that may be missing from other sources that family and community members have shared with Lecchesi, like birth dates and if the women had children.
I would want my story to have meaning. I would want my story to be part of the movement to make sure that it doesn’t happen to other women and girls.– Annita Lucchesi
“This has also been kind of a process of healing for communities to be able to have a full sense of how this violence has impacted us and to create a space for families to come forward and share their stories,” she said.
Lucchesi said she hopes her work will help grieving families heal and give peace to spirits.
For her, the work is also personal. She’s a Southern Cheyenne descendant and a survivor of domestic violence, and she feels she too could have been among the women listed in the database.
“I like to think that if that did happen to me, I would want my story to have meaning. I would want my story to be part of the movement to make sure that it doesn’t happen to other women and girls,” she said.
Lucchesi said she has also been involved in discussions about legislation, largely in the U.S., and hopes increased awareness about violence against Indigenous women and girls will lead to policy changes.
“That’s really exciting to see that policy makers are starting to listen to us and want to make a difference,” she said.
Lucchesi noted the work can be challenging, and said updating the database has been prayerful process.
“It means that it’s done with intention and love and it’s not something I do casually,” she said.
“It’s such an emotional process I usually set aside a whole day for it every couple weeks and so there’s prayer for the women, prayer for their families, prayer for their communities that goes into that process.”
While no one owns the information collected in the database, she said it does need to be cared for with love and respect. It is accessible only upon request, which sometimes involves consultation with elders and families.
Lucchesi said anyone interested in accessing the database should contact her through the website.
With files from Loren McGinnis and Rachel Zelniker
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Sherwood Park is a large hamlet in Alberta, Canada within Strathcona County that is recognized as an urban service area. It is located adjacent to the City of Edmonton’s eastern boundary, generally south of Highway 16 (Yellowhead Trail), west of Highway 21 and north of Highway 630 (Wye Road). Other portions of Sherwood Park extend beyond Yellowhead Trail and Wye Road, while Anthony Henday Drive (Highway 216) separates Refinery Row to the west from the balance of the hamlet to the east.
Sherwood Park was established in 1955 on farmland of the Smeltzer family, east of Edmonton. With a population of 70,618 in 2016, Sherwood Park has enough people to be Alberta’s seventh largest city, but technically retains the status of a hamlet. The Government of Alberta recognizes the Sherwood Park Urban Service Area as equivalent to a city.
Sherwood Park, originally named Campbelltown, was founded by John Hook Campbell and John Mitchell in 1953 when the Municipal District of Strathcona No. 83 approved their proposed development of a bedroom community east of Edmonton. The first homes within the community were marketed to the public in 1955. Canada Post intervened on the name of Campbelltown due to the existence of several other communities in Canada within the same name, so the community’s name was changed to Sherwood Park in 1956.
The Sherwood Park Urban Service Area is located in the Edmonton Capital Region along the western edge of central Strathcona County adjacent to the City of Edmonton. The majority of the community is bound by Highway 16 (Yellowhead Highway) to the north, Highway 21 to the east, Highway 630 (Wye Road) to the south, and Anthony Henday Drive (Highway 216) to the west. The Refinery Row portion of Sherwood Park is located across Anthony Henday Drive to the west, between Sherwood Park Freeway and Highway 16. Numerous developments fronting the south side of Wye Road, including Wye Gardens, Wye Crossing, Salisbury Village and the Estates of Sherwood Park, are also within the community. Lands north of Highway 16 and south of Township Road 534/Oldman Creek between Range Road 232 (Sherwood Drive) to the west and Highway 21 to the east are also within the Sherwood Park urban service area.