In 1997, Sandra Calahasen went missing from her home in Fort St John. Described in the local papers as a typically cheerful lady who worked many hours at the local Salvation Army, Sandra’s disappearance was ‘unusual’ to her four children and people of the (then) small community.
When Sandra was declared missing, her four children were lined up on a couch and bombarded by local media. One of her daughters, Rae, was 23 years old at the time. The immediate events were a blur to her; she followed along in a daze, not completely understanding what was happening around her.
Rae describes her mother as ‘the glue that held the family together’.
When Sandra’s remains were found along highway 16 the following year, Rae remembers physically collapsing. The autopsy report showed signs of rape and blunt trauma to the skull. The children’s DNA was collected to confirm Sandra’s identity. The family fell apart and dispersed across the country.
During the years that followed, Rae birthed a child and was faced with traumatic circumstances beyond her control. She lost her once close contact with her siblings. She was surviving and not processing the loss of her mother nor the horrifying events surrounding it. She completed college, had two more children, and ended up living in Kamloops, BC.
Today Rae is a mother of four beautiful teenagers. She has been working for the past decade as an Indigenous educational assistant in our local school system. At the school she tries to incorporate indigenous culture into the context of everyday learning as opposed to supplying it as a separate entity. She tries to be an advocate for indigenous families.
A blend of a few nations, Rae is pretty with bright eyes and dark curls. She is passionate and brave, carrying with her a newspaper clipping from 1997 about her mom’s disappearance. She also carries with her a book in which her mom’s name can be found.
She describes her life as a labyrinth of twists and turns that have led her to the center. And like highway 16, her journey has been lined with tears.
This year, standing in the center of the labyrinth, Rae has been processing her past, opening old wounds and learning how to heal. She is finding her voice and her courage to tell her mom’s story and speak up for murdered and missing indigenous women. It has taken many years for her to come to the place of courage she is at now.
Every year 200 indigenous women are murdered or go missing. Rae would like to shed a light on that. She is speaking to 300 young indigenous girls this week about their personal power and also showing them police judo moves to help them build confidence as they are walking through their lives.
“My mom, whose cultural background is Metis, worked at the Salvation Army, had a very generous spirit and was well loved by her family and community members. My favorite memory of her was when she would make the best oven bannock and goulash for supper. I believe she wants us girls to continue to be a strong voice, have awareness of our surroundings, and practise self love.” – Rae Bennett
This article was first published by The Big Edition, a magazine in Kamloops, BC. The June issue comes out today, June 3, click on the link for more information!