By Rachel Aiello
When Phil Commanda heard that the two women from his community had gone missing, his heart sank.
It hit especially close to home for Commanda, former peer support mentor at the Mamidosewin center because one of the women, Laura Spence, attended Algonquin last year.
“I would check in with her every now and then. She was doing well, on right track, she had a place here and recently she was settling into motherhood,” he said, at an evening gathering on Parliament Hill October 23. The meeting was intended to raise awareness about the missing women. The organizers distributed posters to be hung around the downtown Ottawa area.
However, before the posters had time to get the attention of morning passersby, both Spence and Nicole Whiteduck were found safe on Thursday, Oct. 24. The women were more than an hour away from the First Nations reserve in Maniwaki that they called home. The local police and media have yet to learn how the women ended up in the wooded area, and as for yet they have not spoken about their experience.
The Kitigan Zibi pair were first announced to be missing on Oct. 22, after Spence’s mother Bridget Tolley became worried after not hearing from Laura, a mother of four.
The mothers disappearances had a significant impact on many Ottawans who recognized Tolley’s name as the founder of Families of Sisters in Spirit, a group that raises awareness about missing and murdered aboriginal women. Tolley has lead many vigils and demonstrations in the area since her mother, Gladys Tolley was murdered in 2001.
A facebook page was created to coordinate the search. “Every time someone goes missing, we need to mobilize and act fast to find them because our people are precious, every single one of us and we may have our problems but when it comes down to it,” said organizer Jen Emm. “A single twig breaks but a bundle of twigs is strong.”
Their disappearance came a week after the UN’s indigenous peoples rights rapporteur, called on the federal government to launch a “comprehensive and nationwide” inquiry into the case of missing and murdered aboriginal women.