Foreign Policy Magazine

The Sisterhood

Over the past three decades, more than 1,000 indigenous women have gone missing or have been murdered in Canada. The violence hasn’t stopped. Neither have the female activists demanding justice.

Every July, more than a million people descend on Calgary, Canada, for Stampede, a 10-day rodeo and festival billed as “The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.” A prairie city just east of the Rockies, Calgary is inundated with cowboys and denim-clad wannabes looking to eat fried food and watch bull riders. Stampede is also western Canada’s answer to Mardi Gras. Patrons pack shoulder-to-shoulder into neon-lit saloons and cavernous clubs, where female bartenders in crop tops and hot pants wander dance floors bearing trays of shots. Companies with names like “Bust Loose!” deploy hundreds of buses, equipped with booming stereos and dance poles, to carry revelers on hours-long pub crawls.

For Canada’s aboriginal people, Stampede offers another kind of celebration: a chance to showcase their cultures. (Indigenous populations include the country’s 634 First Nations as well as Métis and Inuit citizens.) At Stampede Park, the event’s main grounds in downtown Calgary, native craftspeople show spectators how to raise tipis, carve knives out of stone, and use butchered animals’ stomachs as cooking vessels.

On July 11, 2007, Sandra Manyfeathers, a local educator, dancer, and member of the Blood Tribe, was slated to participate in the festivities. Then 36, Manyfeathers would join other indigenous performers at one of Stampede’s Grandstand Shows, nightly entertainment extravaganzas featuring local talent. She hoped that her older sister, Jacqueline Crazybull, would be watching.

With high, fine cheekbones and long, dark hair, the sisters—two of 12 siblings—looked alike. Crazybull had helped raise Manyfeathers after their mother died when they were young—20 and 12, respectively. Crazybull went on to have a dozen children of her own. Her life hadn’t been easy; she’d struggled with drug addiction and had sometimes been homeless. Still, she was lighthearted and quick to kindness, with a wide smile and a warm laugh. She often showed up to cheer at Manyfeathers’s dance performances.

But Crazybull never made it. At about 4 a.m. that July 11, she and a cousin, Kirk Steinhauer, were hungry for a snack and popped into a corner store on Calgary’s Red Mile, a strip of restaurants and bars next to Stampede Park. Shortly after the two left the store, a group of young men in a sedan pulled up to the curb, rolled down a window, and asked for directions. Crazybull walked over to help. Steinhauer sat on a bus-stop bench and took his eyes off his cousin for only a moment. Then he heard her scream.

The sedan was peeling away down the street. Crazybull lay crumpled in pain on the pavement. Steinhauer dashed over and saw that she was alive but bleeding profusely from a stab wound to her stomach. Within minutes, Crazybull stopped breathing. She was one of five people attacked that night in Calgary, seemingly at random, by the same men. She was the only aboriginal victim, and the only one who died.

Manyfeathers heard the news that afternoon while in a trailer preparing for the Grandstand Show. She remembers feeling disbelief. It wasn’t the first time heartbreak had touched her family. In 1991, another sister, Yvonne, had been beaten to death by a relative’s boyfriend. Eight years later,

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