Helen Betty Osborne’s life honoured near The Pas 50 years after she was murdered

THE PAS –

People from across the province gathered in northern Manitoba to honour the life of Helen Betty Osborne.

The 19-year-old Cree woman was abducted from the streets of The Pas, Man. and brutally murdered 50 years ago on Nov. 13, 1971, in a case which exposed racism and indifference towards Indigenous people.

“Helen Betty Osborne was targeted,” said Renee Kastrukoff with the family resource centre in The Pas, who helped organize the ceremony. “The young men that went out that night, there were four of them, the intent was to go and find an Indian girl to have sex with. So, she was targeted.”

The ceremony, held to honour Osborne’s life, started at the former site of Guy Hill Residential School along the shores of Clearwater Lake just north of The Pas. A monument was placed at the site in July 2000 in Osborne’s memory.

Osborne, who was from Norway House, was a survivor and student at the school, before she started attending classes at a high school in The Pas.

Family, friends and former classmates huddled around the monument and held each for support. For some it was their first time visiting the site.

“It was difficult for them to come and visit the memorial site in the past,” said Darlene Osborne, a relative and councillor in Osborne’s home community of Norway House Cree Nation. “And now this is the first time and they felt they had to be here today.”

Rebecca Ross, Osborne’s friend, said Betty, as they called her, wanted to become a teacher. But her dreams and her life ended in a horrific and violent way when she was just 19,

“She was never given that chance,” Ross said. “I often wonder how many hundreds of students she would’ve touched.”

In the early morning hours of Nov. 13, 1971, after a night out with friends, Osborne was abducted by a group of four men in The Pas, sexually assaulted and driven north of town to Clearwater Lake where she was brutally murdered. Her body was dragged into the bush near a pump house along the lake where a memorial still stands today.

After a ceremony at the residential school site, people returned to the pump house walking several kilometres to lay a wreath, flowers and tobacco at the memorial for Osborne.

It was a way of honouring her life while pushing for change.

It took nearly two decades before any justice was delivered in Osborne’s death and some feel little has changed since she was killed.

“I think things have been worsened,” Darlene Osborne said. “There’s so many Indigenous women and girls, even men and boys are missing and murdered.”

The details and circumstances surrounding Osborne’s death were examined as part of the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry in Manitoba, which was established in 1988. While police identified the assailants in 1972, it took 16 years before anyone was brought to justice. The inquiry found racism and indifference towards Indigenous people played a role.

Four men were involved in her death but only one, Dwayne Archie Johnston, was convicted of second-degree murder. James Houghton was acquitted at trial, Lee Colgan received immunity from prosecution for his testimony and Norman Manger was never charged.

“Well, people feel there hasn’t been justice served,” Darlene Osborne said. “There’s no justice for Helen Betty.”

By honouring her life, friends, family and advocates hope fewer families have to go through what Helen Betty’s did. They’re calling on governments to implement all 231 Calls for Justice stemming from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls to make the change they’ve been fighting for decades.

The 50th anniversary ceremony concluded with a feast.

Trauma support was offered throughout the day by Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak’s MMIWG liaison unit. 

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