Saint Mary’s University remembers Loretta Saunders

Deserie Murphy, Special to Metro Halifax
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‘She was really bright and really brave’

Halifax—Natteal Battiste knew Loretta Saunders well.

Natteal Battiste (centre), Aboriginal student adviser at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, N.S., performs a smudging ceremony on a Grand Council Flag prior to a flag-raising ceremony on campus in honour of Labrador Inuk murder victim Loretta Saunders and other murdered and missing women.

As president of the Saint Mary’s Aboriginal Society, the two would speak regularly about life and the 26-year-old’s thesis on missing and murdered Aboriginal women.

Batiste saw big things for Saunders’ future.

“She was out to learn. She was like a sponge in that aspect,” Batiste recalled. “She wanted to meet people and move forward with things that really mattered to her.”

That bright future is now lost. The Saint Mary’s University student was found dead Feb. 26, her body located off a New Bruns­wick highway.

Her former roommates, Blake Leggette and Victoria Hennebury, have been charged with first-degree murder in a case that began as a missing person’s report on Feb. 13.

On a cold Monday morning, Battistte and about 30 others gathered to watch a traditional grand council flag-raising ceremony at Saint Mary’s McNally Building.

The event was commemorating all the missing or murdered aboriginal women in Canada, including Saunders.

“My whole life, by growing up on a reserve, I hear about things like this happening all the time. My mother’s best friend went missing and the case was never solved,” said Battiste. “Those families have an open wound that’s never going to heal.”

Battiste performed a traditional smudging of the flag with smoke at the ceremony. Afterwards, a few women joined in an ancestral song as a drum was beat steadily, followed by a moment of silence.

“This is a reality I was not expecting to see in a country such as Canada,” said Saint Mary’s student Alexia Lopez. “It’s incredible the response that has come for Loretta, but some cases have gone ignored.”

Lopez came to Halifax from Mexico and was Saunders’ classmate last semester.

“I am so enraged that something like this had to happen to her,” Lopez said after the ceremony. “She made me feel welcome here even though I was a stranger. She would smile, she would say hi, when other people feigned blindness. She was really bright and really brave.”

Organizations: Aboriginal Society

Geographic location: Saint Mary, Canada, Halifax Mexico

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