My sister, 23 years old, was put in the snow and left to die. It was never properly investigated

NS10 days after Danielle Ewenin learned that her 23-year-old sister had been found frozen to death in a farmer’s field in the suburbs. Calgary, Alberta, a city in southwestern Canada, she said she sat down with a police officer to try to understand how such a tragedy could have happened.

It was February 1982 and Danielle, 22 years old, and her parents were staying in a family member’s home in Regina, a city in Saskatchewan, Canada, when the local official, who she said was briefed by Calgary police, explained that the last time her sister Eleanor “Laney” Ewenin left a downtown bar in Calgary. Two days later, police said they found her in a field that Danielle estimated was about 20 miles from the center of town at the time.

Danielle, who described the meeting, said: “They told us it was already snowing, so they could see the tire track coming in and the track pulling out and they could see that she was trying. trying to cross the field,” said Danielle, who described the meeting with police that lasted about an hour. “There was a building there that had the lights on, so they felt that was where she was going.”

But she will never make it through. According to Danielle, marks in the snow indicate that she fell three times, and by the third fall, she never got up again.

The mother of two boys, aged 5 and 3, was found lying on their stomach in the snow after nights before the temperature had dropped as low as -15F.

According to autopsy results provided by her family, Laney’s cause of death was hypothermia, with alcoholism listed as a “previous cause”. That same year, her death was ruled unsuspecting, according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Alberta.

We know how the police saw the natives, you know, the Indians, at the time.

– Danielle Ewenin

But in the following decades, family members became convinced of a very different version of events; they say that Laney was the victim of a so-called “starlight tour”.

The shocking reality, which has been documented many times in Canada, often involves law enforcement officers driving a native into a remote area and leaving them in freezing temperatures. Some did not survive the tours. Human Rights Watch reports that the practice has been around since at least 1976.

It was only when a native named Darrell Night survived such an attack in 2000—and the officers involved were found guilty—that the operation became more widely known. According to Human Rights Watch, “Indigenous leaders reported receiving more than 250 phone calls reporting incidents of ‘starlight travel’ across Saskatchewan,” according to Human Rights Watch. permission.

Although it has been recorded primarily in Saskatchewan, additional police-related cases suggest that the activity extends beyond this single province.

About a week before Laney’s body was discovered, family members said city police went to her mother’s home in Calgary with Laney.

According to Debbie Green, one of Laney’s other sisters, it was quite common, at the age of 12.

Laney, a Plains Cree, was taken from her family as a child as part of the “60s scoop,” a series of policies that began in the early 1950s and resulted in the encroachment of thousands of Indigenous children. have to leave their home. She suffered terrible abuse in a foster home, including the loss of her left ring finger, and she later developed alcoholism. Right before her death, she was trying to get rid of alcohol addiction and gain custody of her sons.

Lillian Piapot, MMIWG National Bureau of Investigation Commissioner Marion Buller, Debbie, Mona Woodward, Danielle

Illustration by The Daily Beast / Getty / Photo: Family Handout

According to Debbie, because she does not have a home of her own, when Laney drinks excessively in Calgary, the city police often take her to her mother’s home. Calgary police say they have no record of this.

The last time the police took her home was different, Debbie said: “One time the policeman came up to her and said, ‘Look, we’re tired of doing this. You better do something, right? Or she won’t come home one day. ‘”

A few days later, Laney Ewenin died.

The family believes she is another victim of the “starlight tour”.

They say the remoteness of where she was found, her history with law enforcement and the fact that a family member reported seeing Laney being picked up by police before she disappeared, made it impossible for them to avoid that conclusion.

They also say there are some glaring differences with the police investigation; The documents were filed under the wrong name, and her body could be quickly buried after a mysterious benefactor paid to be taken home.

Danielle told The Daily Beast she believes the Calgary Police Service took her sister on “a tour under the stars”, dropped her off and that was the cause of her death. “


Debbie at the site where Laney was found.

Illustration by The Daily Beast / Getty / Photo: Family Handout

Today, the family is pushing for answers and justice for Laney, who family members describe as cheerful and aggressive. They also want to raise awareness so that things like this don’t happen to any more Indigenous people.

Debbie said: “I want people to know about the ‘starlight tour’ they happened, to believe families when they say it happened, regardless of what the police or reports are saying. , and hold government accountable.”

According to the medical examiner’s certificate and autopsy report, Laney was found in jeans, leather snowshoes, an overcoat and a bomber jacket in a field near a country road. The document said her only injuries were minor and appeared to be the result of crawling in the snow.

The report does not mention a single vehicle, and instead describes footprints on the side of the road “for some distance.” It adds: “They then went into a field and made a wide curve ending at the point where the body was found.”

According to traditional burial rites, the family needed to bury Laney within four days of her death. But first she needs to be transported about 500 miles from Calgary to Regina. According to the family, this will be a huge burden for the family, who are already experiencing financial difficulties and other organizations that can help have regulated transportation across the provinces at the time. Danielle said she remembers having faced huge hurdles in the past when trying to get the bodies of loved ones home.


Debbie at the site where Laney was found.

Illustration by The Daily Beast / Getty / Photo: Family Handout

“But when we met [police], they told her she had arrived, they just needed a funeral home, to know where to send her,” she said.

The family, according to Danielle, never knew who paid for the transportation or how it could have been done so quickly.

A spokesperson for Calgary Police said the agency was not involved in the investigation into her death. A medical examiner’s report listed Strathmore of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Strathmore as a police force, but the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Alberta explained that they were responsible for the investigation.

Green said their brother, who has since passed away, told another of their sisters that he was out with Laney the night she disappeared and saw “the police took her away that night.”

Danielle said a special police officer in Calgary was harassing her sister, and would regularly come pick her up. But she said she did not know the officer’s name.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police in the province of Alberta said they no longer have an investigation file related to Laney’s death. As her death is not being treated as suspicious, a spokesperson for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Alberta said in an email that the record “will be purged after eight years, in accordance with the company’s information retention policy.” Federal Government of Canada. Because of that policy, I don’t have any records that I can claim to date back to 1982.”

I know honest mistakes happen. But it raises suspicions, because they know who she is. They know who her family is.

– Danielle Ewenin

For years, Laney’s siblings have been trying to move on from the tragedy. They talk about it sometimes and it’s hard not to know what happened. However, according to Danielle, they never really expected justice.

She said: “I mean, like, we know how the police see natives, you know, Indians, at the time.”

She added: “It’s never been a good experience to be pulled over or stopped, or let the police come to your door.”

In 2017, family members, including Danielle and Debbie, testified about Laney’s death as part of Canada’s National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Indigenous Women and Girls . As part of the process, they requested Laney’s case files and an autopsy. Family members said officials repeatedly told them they could not find it.


Illustration by The Daily Beast / Getty / Photo: Family Handout

Months later, after Danielle said a coroner had agreed to do a similar death search around the time Laney died, they finally found it. Danielle said it was filed under a different name, which she never knew her sister.

“I know honest mistakes happen. But it raises suspicions, because they know who she is. They know who her family is,” said Danielle.

This was especially evident as on the last page of the 14-page autopsy report and accompanying documents, her legal name was included.

Danielle said the family has filed complaints with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Calgary Police Service regarding Laney’s death over the past few years. A spokesman for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Alberta said it did not have any other records related to Laney’s death.

A spokesperson for the Calgary Police Service said in an email: “Unfortunately, we do not have any records of any CPS interactions with Ms. EWENIN, nor are there any records of any complaints. any complaint from her family. Without these supporting details and facts, we cannot comment on these allegations.”

During part of a national hearing that was not publicly broadcast, Debbie said her family had the opportunity to speak directly with Royal Canadian Mounted Police and local police officials. Family members, she said, told them they knew law enforcement was responsible for Laney’s death.

Debbie said she remembers one official responding: “Well, unfortunately, you know, we’ll never know.” My sister, 23 years old, was put in the snow and left to die. It was never properly investigated


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