The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples and advocates called for the release of two Keeseekoose women — who were given life sentences for a crime they say they never committed — at a press conference Tuesday morning.
In 1994, Odelia and Nerissa Quewezance were convicted of second-degree murder after the 1993 homicide of a 70-year-old farmer, Anthony Joseph Dolff, who was from the area of Kamsack, Sask.
For the past 28 years, the women have proclaimed their innocence and say they were wrongfully convicted.
Nerissa Quewezance is currently on a Canada-wide warrant after walking away from her parole in 2020. Her whereabouts remains unknown, but she attended Tuesday's press conference by phone to say she was innocent.
"I didn't kill him," Nerissa Quewezance said. "I wouldn't do that at all. Every day is a struggle."
Her sister, Odelia Quewezance, also attended the press conference, but from prison.
"What the system took away from me is my spirit and to be free," Odelia Quewezance said Tuesday over Zoom.
"Now I have a voice today. I'm stronger. I'm not going to give up, and I pray my sister Nerissa doesn't give up, and that my children don't give up on me."
Neither sister has seen each other in 18 years, the last time being at their father's funeral.
Cousin confesses to the murder
Dolff had propositioned the women after a night of drinking at his farmhouse on Keeseekoose First Nation, as reported by APTN news.
Their cousin, Jason Keshane, who was 14 at the time and at the scene that night, has admitted numerous times to killing Dolff, including at the trial and to APTN Investigates, who reported it was a horrific crime.
APTN said Dolff was stabbed 17 times, including twice in the heart. He was also strangled with a phone cord, and had a television thrown onto his head.
Senator Kim Pate, who advocates on behalf of the Quewezance sisters, who were 19 and 21 at the time of the killing, said the case needs be reviewed due to the confession.
A spokesperson for the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada David Lametti said "the government is committed to a fair and impartial criminal justice system that respects the needs of victims while guarding against potential miscarriages of justice."
Individuals who have exhausted their right to appeal can apply to have their convictions reviewed. The Ministry of Justice could not comment on specific applications.
In March, the government also created the Independent Criminal Case Review Commission which is aimed at reviewing any possible wrongful convictions.
Majority of women serving life sentences are Indigenous: Pate
Pate says the sisters' sentence speaks to a greater systemic issue that disproportionately impacts Indigenous women.
"The majority of women receiving life sentences now are Indigenous women. Virtually all of them are receiving life sentences in response to their response of violence perpetrated against them," Pate said at the press conference.
"When they do try to protect themselves, the full weight of the law comes in to criminalize and imprison them. Indigenous women in particular are under protected — by state, child welfare, policing — and they're over-policed and over-criminalized and incarcerated," Pate said.
Indigenous women now account for 42 per cent of women in federal custody. In Saskatchewan, Indigenous girls make up 98 per cent of the young women in custody, Pate said.
Non-profit legal organization steps in
Innocence Canada, a non-profit legal organization, is currently supporting Odelia and Nerissa in the challenge to prove their innocence. They are calling the statements used in the sisters' conviction into question, as the women declined to give statements without their lawyers present.
According to the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, the two women were denied contact with a lawyer for days following their arrest.
"The most important thing to remember is that these two women aren't responsible for doing anything wrong," said David Milgaard at the press conference
Milgaard, a prison advocate who was wrongfully convicted for the 1969 rape and murder of nursing assistant Gail Miller, has been working with other advocates to exonerate the Quewezance sisters.
"The person that was responsible for it has confessed to it, and we want these women to heal. To be nurtured. To go with their girls … to start their life, and to be free. They need their freedom right now."