After miraculously surviving a vicious, near-lethal assault and being left for dead in a freezing Winnipeg river which she somehow crawled out of before being found unconscious on the riverbank, 16-year-old Rinelle Harper made a powerful appearance at the Assembly of First Nations, which opened its three-day proceedings with a drumming ceremony in her honour.
In an unusual move, while Rinelle was recovering in the hospital, her family allowed police to publicize her name and face in order to draw out public information about the assault. Soon after, two men were arrested and charged with attempted murder. Her name has since become a rallying cry in calls for a national inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women.
Harper spoke to the convention holding an eagle feather, as hundreds of First Nations chiefs and delegates listened. Her statement was met with a roar of applause and a standing ovation:
I am Rinelle Harper and I am from the Garden Hill First Nation. I am here to talk about an end to violence against young aboriginal women.
I understand that conversations have been happening all across the country about ending violence against indigenous women and girls.
Some people who have visited with me have shared their stories of healing. I ask that everyone here remembers a few simple words: love, kindness, respect and forgiveness.
As a survivor, I respectfully challenge you all to call for a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women.