Roxana Wadhams (Wilson) has been given the opportunity to turn years of agonizing personal pain into positive change. On June 3, 1989, Roxana’s daughter Adriane Wadhams, who was just six years old, was brutally raped and murdered in Fort Rupert. Jason Kennedy, 15, was arrested, tried as an adult, and found guilty of First Degree murder on May 29, 1992 and sentenced to life in prison. Kennedy is still in jail, having waived his last parole hearing.
Adriane is one of hundreds of aboriginal girls and women that have been victims of violent crimes across Canada. A 2014 report by the RCMP concluded 1,017 aboriginal women had been murdered between 1980 and 2012, and that another 164 were considered missing. As part of his election campaign, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to launch an inquiry into the issue.
Since the Liberal Party took office, Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and Status of Women Minister Patty Haydu have toured the country to hear from family members about what the inquiry should look like. As part of this process, Roxana has represented the North Island at two recent meetings. The first was a three-day gathering in Prince George held from Jan. 31 to Feb. 2 which was attended by about 500 relatives who shared their stories with BC government officials, including Justice Minister Suzanne Anton, Public Safety Minister Mike Morris, and Aboriginal Relations Minister John Rustad.
The Prince George meeting was the result of a memorandum of agreement between the provincial government, the First Nations Leadership Council and Métis Nation BC to end violence against aboriginal women. Roxana attended along with about 20 others from the North Island who are relatives of victims. The families that attended were grateful to have the opportunity to “share their stories and give their loved ones a voice,” said Roxana, who took her daughter Samantha Pelkey-Wadhams and two of her grandchildren, 15-year-old twins Latisha and Isaiah with her to Prince George. “It was really meaningful for all four of us. It was very emotional, but it really brought a lot of reconciliation and understanding of one another in our time of grief,” she said. “To make something out of so tragic, and turn it around, and be a voice (for victims), that was really encouraging to me,” said Wadhams.
While at the Prince George meeting, Wadhams was invited by Chastity Davis, chair on behalf of the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council, to travel to Winnipeg, Manitoba Feb. 24 to attend the (federal) 2nd Roundtable on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.This sharing circle provided an opportunity for families to share their stories directly with Premiers, Ministers and National Aboriginal Organizations in a safe space. Roxana said that at the roundtable, as she listened to the tragic stories, she reflected on the broken promises that have been made by previous governments over the years.This time she believes things are different. “They are really listening and on the third day they said that they are going to follow through and even open up cases that were closed,” she said. “I’ve been on a healing journey since 2009 and to go to (the meeting) it was so healing for me,” she said. Roxana, who also suffered sexual and physical abuse as a child, has decided to turn her grief and life experience into an opportunity to help others. “I want to make a difference for them, for myself, and for their safety.” So at the age of 54 she has decided to go back to school so that she can counsel battered young women and youth, a significant milestone in her personal journey. “The 15-year-old that was so messed up has found herself.”