Several Indigenous women spoke in support of Dawn Walker at a Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) news conference in Saskatoon on Friday. They called for an investigation into the police's handling of Walker's domestic violence allegations and for her release from custody.
Walker was reported missing on July 24, prompting widespread ground, water and air searches and requests from the FSIN to help find her and her seven-year-old son, who had also disappeared.
Both were found in Oregon on Aug. 5. and Walker was arrested. She is facing charges of parental abduction and public mischief in Canada, along with U.S. charges related to using false documents to cross the border. Walker is accused of faking her own death.
Walker was back in Saskatoon in police custody as of Friday afternoon after a U.S. judge ordered her return earlier this week.
The women at Friday's news conference reasserted claims that Walker was fleeing domestic violence, and criticized the legal and social systems meant to help victims of domestic violence.
"Until you walk the mile in the shoes of a woman who has to protect their children or themselves, you have no room to talk," said Mary Culbertson, treaty commissioner of Saskatchewan, who recounted personal stories of domestic abuse.
"For you men out there, you have no room to talk, not a single one of you should be condemning Dawn or any woman who says they didn't get help because these systems were built for you, not us."
Walker is an acclaimed author and was also the executive operating officer of the FSIN, which represents Saskatchewan's First Nations.
FSIN calls for reform of 'broken colonial legal system'
After her disappearance, the FSIN hosted events including a candlelight vigil.
Walker's sister, Kathy Walker, cried as she began her statement, thanking those who supported their family. She said they are thankful that "she's now back in her homelands and hopefully will be home with us soon and reunited with her precious son."
When Walker was found, the FSIN released a statement that quoted FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron, who said "it is heart-breaking that Dawn may have felt she had no other choice."
In a written statement to CBC News on Aug. 9, Walker said she "left Saskatoon because I feared for my safety and that of my son."
She didn't name the person she said she fears, but has previously made domestic violence allegations against her ex, who is the father of her son.
Police have said the allegations were investigated but no evidence was found to support them.
The father of Walker's son has told Saskatoon radio station CKOM that he would never hurt her or the boy.
On Friday, the FSIN called for an investigation into the Saskatoon Police Service and the RCMP's handling of Walker's case.
"We call for a reform for our broken colonial legal system that fails to keep our Indigenous women and children safe as well as our victims and survivors of domestic violence," Heather Bear, an FSIN vice-chief, read from a prepared statement.
Bear also called for the release of Dawn Walker from police custody "under her own recognizance."
When Bear was asked about the father's comments that he would never hurt Walker or the boy, she got visibly upset and asked, "Why would we believe him over Dawn, the mother? That's just that same attitude the justice system has," pointing to race and gender before calling it a "foolish question."
The organization has not publicly commented on Walker's charges beyond asking for her release. After she was located in Oregon, the FSIN repeatedly declined requests for comment.
A spokesperson for the organization said on Aug. 9 that FSIN would not be commenting because "it is a criminal matter now."
'Difference in treatment and attention': FSIN vice-chief
Aly Bear, a federation vice-chief, released a statement the same day.
She said while everyone is grateful that Dawn and her son are alive, she didn't "condone the way the situation was handled as a mother, lawyer and vice-chief of the FSIN."
She apologized to the families of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, two-spirit people and men for the "difference in treatment and attention that was given in this situation."
"There are women and girls who have been missing for years, yet there continues to be an extreme lack of support and outcry for them. Where have the resources, time and money been for these women that continue to be missing and found murdered?" she wrote in the statement.
"No one should have more effort than the other because of their name or title."
Marie Henein said this week that she would be defending Walker in court on her Canadian charges.
When asked if the FSIN was paying for Walker's legal fees, Heather Bear said the organization would if it had the money, but referenced a GoFundMe campaign for Walker. As of Friday afternoon, the fundraising effort had garnered about $29,000 in donations.
Walker is expected to make her first appearance in Provincial Court Monday morning.