A grassroots activist living in Vancouver who often speaks out on issues involving violence against Indigenous women and girls says she wants to see changes to the Amber Alert system.
Jamie Smallboy, originally from Maskwacis Cree Nation in Alberta, says she has more than 500 signatures on an online petition that will be presented to Justice Minister David Lametti to make that change happen – but is hoping for at least 500 more.
Smallboy says the case of missing 5-year-old Frank Young at Red Earth Cree Nation is just another example of a system that doesn’t serve missing Indigenous people.
“On a reserve, the opportunities to witness an abduction are not the same as in a city or in a town setting because you have people on every corner, but not on the reserve. We do have people that drive on the reserves looking and hunting for our women and our children,” she says.
“They don’t include that- it doesn’t even hit the Amber Alert criteria at all, so it needs to be adjusted to be inclusive of all the differences.”
When Young went missing on April 19, members of the public questioned why there was no Amber Alert issued.
RCMP Sgt. Richard Tonge said at an April 26 news conference that Frank’s disappearance didn’t meet the criteria to warrant an amber alert.
“There’s no evidence to support that Frank was abducted. We’ve had numerous tips, some from as far away as Edmonton, Red Deer, Saskatoon, Prince Albert. We’ve been following up on those tips,” Tonge says.
“We’ve been fortunate our partner policing agencies have been taking this seriously and they’ve conducted very quick and thorough investigations to show that sightings in these areas were not Frank.”
But Aly Bear, third vice chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations doesn’t agree.
“There’s a lack of awareness, and when an Indigenous person goes missing, it’s not taken seriously,” says Aly Bear. “It’s just on us, and we make the posts on Facebook, but it’s not the same as alerting the whole community.”
According to Smallboy’s petition, “Indigenous children are left without the support and resources connected to the amber alert when a child goes missing. They do not fit the criteria required for an amber alert to be issued. The criteria need to be adjusted to include our on-reserve children.
“It is critical to the safety and well-being of our children to have a system and alert in place for Indigenous children. Our Indigenous women and girls are going missing and being found deceased at alarming rates. A billboard campaign with an alert system connected to the missing person reports would bring much-needed awareness and attention to the disappearance of our women and children. These decisions are at the provincial and federal levels but are possible to put into action across Canada.
“We need your support in signing this petition. The more signatures we get the more weight the petition will have as it moves forward. Think of little Frank from Red Earth, Tina Fontaine, Chelsea Poorman, Billie Johnson and so so many others that could still be with us if we had proper alerts and systems in place.”
Smallboy believes the ball gets dropped many times by police when an Indigenous person is reported missing, and it starts when police ask for the caller’s name, and they hear it’s an Indigenous name.
“That kind of seems where the breakdown is, the individual’s bias. They take it upon themselves ‘well, is this an emergency or not an emergency, is this person really missing or are they just Indigenous’- and they’re out partying, or they’re at a cousin’s or an auntie’s?”
Smallboy says she’s heading home this summer and will continue to gather signatures over the summer. An official federal petition needs 500 signatures – which she has.
Smallboy says she’s hoping to present the Change.Org petition to Lametti and the Minister of Crown Indigenous Relations, Marc Miller this fall.