Bryan Blackstar with his niece, Moosomin First Nation, Saskatchewan. Photo via Ashley Blackstar.
Ashley Blackstar says her brother Bryan didn’t want to be at the house party on the Moosomin First Nation, located in northwestern Saskatchewan, Canada. In the early morning hours of February 2, 2014, he was beaten to death by two young men he considered friends.
“He was killed while he was passed out,” says Blackstar. “What I heard was that he wanted to come home.”
Blackstar attended the second-degree court hearings of the two suspects for as long as she could, but found the hearings too painful.
As tragic and brutal as the unfortunate death of Bryan Blackstar sounds, it comes as no surprise to Jen Mt. Pleasant. For the past nine months, the Six Nations journalist has been profiling cases just like Blackstar’s. She has now compiled a database containing the names of over 600 missing or murdered indigenous men in Canada, going back to the 1950s.
In Canada, racial data is “actively suppressed” from law enforcement statistics. As a result, Stats Canada does not include race in their annual count of the country’s homicides.
To collect the names of missing and murdered aboriginal men, Mt. Pleasant scoured the web for news stories. She has also used information from several police agencies and missing person’s websites across Canada. Mt Pleasant even contacted relatives of the missing or murdered persons to confirm their ancestry.
In her database, categories have been created for those that have gone missing or been murdered. Mt. Pleasant says her database includes cases where no foul play was suspected, even accidental deaths or drowning. She said she included some of those names because family members often feel there is more to the story.
Listed in alphabetical order, Mt. Pleasant intends to expand the database to research deaths from the 1920s and 1930s.
Mt. Pleasant, who studied criminology in college, initially started her research on missing and murdered women and girls. “During my research I would come across a picture of a native male that had been murdered or have gone missing,” she says, adding, “It seems that not a lot of attention is given to that (aboriginal men) and everyone is just focusing on the women.”
Recently, the RCMP released a report citing 1,181 missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada since 1980. The report concluded the total number of missing and murdered aboriginal women exceeded previous public estimates.
“With the (aboriginal) women, more often than not, there’s a sexual component, there’s a lot of sexual violence,” says Mt. Pleasant. “I’m not finding that with the males, they’re dying really violent deaths.”
Ashley Blackstar and her family know this too well. Four days after the gruesome murder of her brother, the family visited the house where it happened. “There was blood splattered everywhere,” says Blackstar. “His blood was on the ground, on rocks, splattered on the side of the house, and on the steps.”
Cheryl Maloney, president of the Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association, says all these missing and murdered cases have more to do with race than gender: “Nobody has the numbers, nobody knows where to start,” says Maloney. “It just seems our people are disposable in this country.”
Maloney says if governments and agencies disclosed numbers based on race for men, like the recent RCMP report on missing and murdered aboriginal women, it would probably surprise the public. But in an email statement, Public Safety Canada says the department has no research projects planned this year on the topic of missing and murdered aboriginal men.
On the Moosomin First Nation in Saskatchewan, the family of Bryan Blackstar still mourns his death.
“He was a really kind guy, he wasn’t the type to hurt anybody or cause anybody trouble,” says Ashley Blackstar. “It hurts every day. I wish I could wake up and he could be there.”