Angela Sterritt is an award-winning journalist, writer and artist. Sterritt has worked as a journalist for twenty years and with CBC since 2003 – as a host and multi-media reporter. She is a proud member of the Gitxsan Nation and lives on Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) and sə̓lílwətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) territories, Vancouver.
In this blend of investigative journalism and memoir, the award-winning Gitxsan journalist shares how she survived life on the streets, alongside reporting into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. Sterritt shows the strength and brilliance of Indigenous women is unbroken, as they build lives of joy and abundance.
Interviewed by Caley Byrne
Caley Byrne (CB): To begin, I’d love it if you could share what inspired you to write Unbroken in the way you did, skillfully weaving your story amongst the stories of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG)?
Angela Sterritt (AS): I wanted to illuminate the stories of the family members whose loved ones are missing or have been murdered. At the same time, I wanted to draw attention to how colonial violence casts a shadow on our lives to this day through the institutions that were put in place to erase, oppress, and destroy Indigenous people. I knew if I wanted to help Canadians truly understand this, then sharing my own story of survival would be necessary. I also wanted my book to empower other survivors and family members to continue telling the truth. I think depicting the beauty of our lands, peoples, and cultures provides a landing place of peace and hope for readers, and demonstrates that our people are multi-dimensional beings with inherent rights. I hope that my book not only educates but compels people to find solutions and create a new country where some of the most vulnerable members of it will be valued, protected, and beloved.
CB: As you mention in the book’s Note to Readers, “While in some ways this is a dark and harrowing read, in others it is beautiful and loving, filled with all the care and compassion Indigenous people live in and give.” Can you speak to the process of balancing the darkness with the beauty within the pages? Was striking that balance difficult, or did it come naturally?
AS: From a young age, I noticed that what was on TV, on the radio, or in popular media was not always what I saw in Indigenous peoples’ lives and the push to have our rights recognized. I’ve always had a desire to see Indigenous people accurately represented. Too often I was seeing Indigenous peoples’ territories, like those along the Highway of Tears, shrouded in misery and darkness. My book doesn’t shy away from talking about the crisis of MMIWGTS and the need to hold institutions and individuals responsible. At the same time, our power (supernatural, political, spiritual) cannot be denied when you are in our territories. Just like other Indigenous people, I love the land, our cultures, and our connections. It felt natural and intuitive to showcase us with all the complexities and beauty that we behold.
CB: From the abuse of judges and officers such as Ramsay and Harris, to government officials such as Gretes blocking movement on report recommendations, to the “missing white woman syndrome” you mention of mass media’s racially skewed coverage, there are so many unjust forms of structural racism discussed in Unbroken. Much of BC, Canada, and the rest of the world is waking up to these structures and systems that continue to privilege non-Indigenous people, but there is still a long way to go before they are fixed or eradicated. Learning the truth and hearing stories from Indigenous voices is an important part of the change. What approaches, do you think, work well to continue this truth-sharing and awareness-building?
AS: I think it’s important for the public to rely on available knowledge from Indigenous people in the communities they live in (listening, rather than demanding education), while at the same time looking deeply inward. Indigenous people didn’t create colonial violence, our (I am speaking from my white heritage) white ancestors did and hence it is not the responsibility of Indigenous people to provide solutions about how to fix or dismantle systems we didn’t create. However, there are currently 5,000 recommendations readily available on the internet by way of reports Indigenous people have written, including the Truth and Reconciliation’s Calls to Action and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Calls for Justice. I’ve provided three of those (from the MMIWG NI) below.
- 6.1 All media and social influencers — including news outlets, academic institutions teaching journalism or media courses, journalists, reporters, bloggers, film producers, writers, musicians and others working in the entertainment industry — must take decolonizing approaches to their work in order to educate all Canadians about Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people. That includes ensuring authentic and appropriate representation of Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people, supporting Indigenous people sharing their stories, increasing the number of Indigenous people in the industry, and taking proactive steps to break down the stereotypes that hypersexualize and demean Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people.
- 11.1 All elementary, secondary and post-secondary institutions and education authorities must educate and provide awareness to the public about missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people, and about the issues and root causes of violence they experience.
- 18.19 All governments, service providers and educators must educate the public on the history of non-gender binary people in Indigenous societies and use media, including social media, as a way to build awareness and understanding of 2SLGBTQQIA issues.
CB: Would you be able to share about your research process for the book? How did you create authentic and compelling narratives from the research and interviews you conducted? As for sharing the stories of others, like Ramona and Brenda Wilson, Gloria Levina Moody and Vanessa Hans, how did you ensure you correctly and honestly captured their truths?
AS: I interviewed family members for hours and hours over seven years. For some loved ones, I spoke to multiple family members. In some cases, I found that the narrative that the RCMP, the media, or sources had about how a woman was murdered or disappeared went against my research. In some cases, I relied on numerous former RCMP members, sources, Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP), and Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy documents, witnesses, family members of witnesses, and community members. My book went through several hands of fact-checkers. So it was a lot. In the end, I feel like I did as much as I could, yet for many family members, they still do not have closure and that is hard to sit with.
CB: Are there any particular thoughts, emotions or realizations you hope your readers will experience by reading Unbroken? How do you hope readers will connect and engage with the subject matter? How do you hope they will act once they have read it?
AS: I want people to feel empowered to act. I want settlers and other Canadians to feel comfortable speaking up about racism and feel compelled to create change in the colonial institutions they work in. It shouldn’t be the responsibility of Indigenous women to do this, but it often ends up that way, and this is one way that colonization has a strong hold over everything we do today.