When “Am I Next” hits home: what happened to my aunt

I remember sitting in the first floor lounge in Harrington Hall. It was my first year. Some friends and I were cracking jokes, and I think I was quoting the Chappelle Show when I got a phone call. I rushed to my room to answer. It was my mom. She told me they discovered my aunt’s remains.

My aunt, Gladys Marie Simon of Elsipogtog First Nation, was last seen alive at the Restigouche Hospital in 2004. Sogi Gladys, that’s Mi’kmaq for aunt, was 6-foot-seven and about 300 pounds. She was a gentle giant, but she suffered from schizophrenia. She had lived at the mental hospital for about a year and a half. Then, she was missing for eight years.

I sat stunned in my room. Tears streaming down my face. Mom said it’d take a few weeks for a positive ID. A few more weeks of uncertainty. A few more weeks of false hope.

Last week, two men were charged with attempted murder after 16-year-old Rinelle Harper was sexually assaulted and left unconscious near Winnipeg’s Assiniboine River. The “Am I Next?” movement and other missing and murdered first nation’s women’s stories have sparked conversations about why it’s happening.

While aboriginal women only comprise four per cent of the female population, they make up 16 per cent of homicide victims and 11 per cent of missing persons. A recent RCMP report said that police-recorded incidents of Aboriginal female homicides and unresolved missing Aboriginal females in this review total 1,181 — 164 missing and 1,017 homicide victims.

My aunt Gladys Simon was missing from June 2004 until September 2012. A man found her skeletal remains at New Dam Lake in Sugar Loaf Park south of Campbellton, which is roughly five kilometers from where she was last seen. He was out looking for fossils. What if he never had gone looking?

It took eight years to find my aunt’s body. The police statement reported that my aunt had no signs of foul play, and that she had simply gotten lost and disorientated and couldn’t find her way back. It didn’t say why it took so long for her remains to be discovered.

The RCMP statement of 146 words seems like so few words for the woman who used to bounce me on her knee and make me laugh. She used to get me DQ ice cream.

I’m ashamed to say that her illness scared me as a kid, because she was “crazy”. I didn’t really know how to act around her, but she was always nice to me. I never saw her episodes, but I remember Mom mentioning that sometimes it made her violent. Could her illness be the reason that she was missing for so long? Or maybe it was her ethnicity?

I’m clearly biased, but it hurts to know that someone you loved wandered off and died alone. She was tall and big and easy to spot. She was a gentle giant. Most of all she was my aunt and now she’s gone.

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