'Just a baby': Vigil mourns 14-year-old Indigenous girl found dead in Vancouver
A vigil was held on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside Tuesday for an Indigenous girl whose body was found there a year after she went missing.
Noelle O'Soup was one of two people whose remains were in a room at a single-room-occupancy building on May 1, Vancouver police have confirmed. The "tragic end" to the search was announced by the department seven weeks later, after the body was identified.
The 14-year-old was a member of the Key First Nation in Saskatchewan. The band says O'Soup was in government care when she went missing in May of 2021.
Vigil organizer Lorelei Williams, who is with the group Butterflies in Spirit, said O'Soup's death is not only a tragedy for those who knew and loved her – it's a painful and stark reminder of an ongoing national crisis.
"Our Indigenous women and girls are in a state of emergency. Our Indigenous women and girls need to be protected. There's a high rate of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. This should not be happening," she told CTV News.
"She was just a baby," she said of O'Soup.
According to the Assembly of First Natiions, 11 per cent of missing females are Indigenous, despite Indigenous people only making up about 4.3 per cent of the population of Canada. The current data is believed to underrepresent the scale of the issue, the AFN says.
The RCMP said Indigenous women represent 10 per cent of cases in which a woman has been missing for at least 30 days, a statistic based on a 2015 report. Of those women, many were identified as missing "due to 'unknown' circumstances or foul play was suspected."
Shortly after announcing that the search for O'Soup had come to a tragic end, the Vancouver Police Department has said criminality has not been ruled out in this case
"Everything's on the table at this point," spokesperson Const. Tania Visintin said at a news conference last week.
"We're looking into all avenues on what caused this death – or deaths, I should say."
INDIGENOUS LEADERS DEMAND ANSWERS
The fact the teenager’s body remained unidentified for nearly two months is difficult for Key First Nation members to take.
“It’s always very hard and very shocking to lose a young member of our community,” said band councillor Solomon Reece told CTV News last week.
“It’s incredibly important to the family and our community that we have the answers to understand what happened, not only the circumstances of her death, but the circumstances that led to her death.”
Kukpi7 Judy Wilson with the Union of BC Indian Chiefs echoes those comments.
“The band and all of the loved ones deserve those answers, and they deserve the proper access to the information, the proper reporting and to know that if this was foul play or it was an overdose,” said Wilson. “It can’t be downplayed.”
Both Wilson and Reece believe the system failed Noelle O’Soup, like it has many missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
“Why are these children dying in care? And they’re not being respected, they’re not being held in high regard. All children should be held in high regard, and there shouldn’t be tragedies happening to the children in care,” said Wilson.
Reece is demanding a full investigation and cooperation from all agencies involved.
“But we also need systemic change," he said. “How many more children have to go missing, and how many more do we have to lose before there is significant changes both at federal and provincial levels?”
They fear if those changes don’t happen, more vulnerable girls like Noelle O’Soup will end up dead.