The Streets 10g - Helen Betty Osborne


Helen Betty Osborne: Hunted

‘Betty, if I start to write a poem about you

it might turn out to be
about hunting season instead,
about ‘open season’ on native women
it might turn out to be
about your face       young and hopeful
staring back at me      hollow now
from a black and white page
it might be about the ‘townsfolk’    (gentle word)
townsfolk who ‘believed native girls were easy’
and ‘less likely to complain if a sexual proposition led to violence.’

Marilyn Dumont, extract from ‘Helen Betty Osborne’ 


Helen Betty Osborne, a 19 year old Cree woman, left her community to pursue her education at the Guy Hill Residential School in Manitoba, with the dream of becoming a teacher and helping her people (Amnesty, 2004). Just two years after doing so, she was abducted and brutally murdered while walking home early one morning in 1971. Four young white men forced her into their car. They subsequently brought her to a cabin and then a pump house where she was beaten, stripped, sexually assaulted and stabbed with a screwdriver more than 50 times. They dragged her into the bushes and left her there where she was discovered the following morning.

At the time, the practice of ‘white youths cruising the town, attempting to pick up Aboriginal girls for drinking parties and for sex’ in The Pas was common, however the RCMP failed to intervene to protect the women and girls who were being targeted.

It took more than 16 years for any of the men to face charges for Helen Betty Osborne’s murder. Those charged were Dwayne Archie Johnston, James Robert Paul Houghton and Lee Scott Colgan. Colgan was granted immunity from prosecution in return for his testimony, Johnston was found guilty of the murder of Betty Osborne and sentenced to life imprisonment however Houghton was acquitted.

The Manitoba Justice Inquiry concluded that Helen Betty Osborne’s murder was fueled by racism and sexism, stating ‘It is clear that Betty Osborne would not have been killed if she had not been Aboriginal.’


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