On May 8, 2023, Connie Walker won a Pulitzer Prize and a day later won a Peabody Award. The Pulitzer was in the category of Audio News and the Peabody for Podcast and Radio. I’m sure Walker has yet to settle back down to Earth, but she has worked hard, dug deep, and asked the hard questions in her work, and is undoubtedly pushing ahead with what comes next.
Who is Connie Walker? She is a journalist. She was born in 1979 in Saskatchewan, on Okanese First Nation. She has many titles but I’m willing to bet she is a mother first, and that role guides her writing and her work.
Warning: the following contains explicit material, which may be triggering.
When Connie Walker was a teenager in high school in 1995, two young white men beat Pamela Jean George to death on the outskirts of Regina. Pamela was 28 and a mother of two. Steven Kummerfield and Alex Ternowetsky left her to die, face down in the snow in a ditch, later laughing at what they had done, friends testified in court. They were first charged with first-degree murder, later reduced to manslaughter, of which they were both found guilty and sentenced January 30, 1997, to six and a half years. Ternowetsky was granted day parole in August of 2000 and Kummerfield was granted full parole in November 2000. During the trial, Justice Ted Malone reminded the jury that Pamela was a prostitute, as if that somehow should guide their decision, not that she was a mother or a daughter or someone who struggled in poverty, but that she was a prostitute. The two men served their sentences in New Brunswick in concern for their safety in a Saskatchewan prison with the significant number of Indigenous inmates. Ternowetsky was back in jail in 2001, charged with assault, robbery, and drunk driving, and back in prison in 2002 for domestic violence. CBC published a report in November 2010 on Kummerfield’s release – his name changed to Brown – “hopes to return to university next fall to pursue creative writing,” as if he had just graduated from high school, not released from prison for beating a young mother to death. Pamela George liked to write poetry, but that detail wasn’t worthy of inclusion in the story of her murder.
Connie Walker was appalled that during the coverage of this horrific event, no voices of Indigenous people were included in the reporting. That’s when she decided that journalism would be her future, she would become the voice for those who have had their voices taken. And that is exactly what she has done. She wrote about Pamela George’s loss of life in her high school newspaper. After graduation, she attended the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College studying journalism from which she graduated and then graduated from the University of Regina. In 2013, Walker was appointed the lead reporter for CBC’s Indigenous reporting unit after working for the CBC since 2001. The first season of her investigative podcast, Missing and Murdered, focused on the murder of Alberta Williams, age 24 in 1989, and was aired by CBC News in 2016. Season two of that podcast focused on Cleo Nicotine Semaganis, Finding Cleo, her life and death within the ‘60s Scoop, aired by CBC in 2018. She left CBC in 2019 to work for Gimlet Media and launched season one of her podcast Stolen: The Search for Jermain in February of 2021 and season two Stolen: Surviving St. Michael’s in 2022. The question that haunts and drives Connie Walker is – how someone can disappear and those with the power to search for her not take any notice.
When Walker began telling stories about missing Indigenous women, few were willing to listen, but that has changed, Walker says. I have no doubt her dedicated reporting has helped create that change. I’ve listened to the sound of her voice in all her podcasts and her voice tells me she is determined, passionate, intelligent, strong, and courageous. These aren’t easy stories to tell, and even more difficult to investigate, to find answers, to ask for help from the justice system that is oftentimes broken due to systemic racism.
Walker’s podcast, released in 2022, earned her the Pulitzer for Stolen: Surviving St. Michael’s, an Indian Residential Institution in Duck Lake, Saskatchewan. I refuse to call them schools. Her father, Howard Cameron, was one of the survivors, a detail that Walker didn’t learn until after his passing. This institution was in operation for more than a hundred years.
Connie Walker’s work is a gift to all of us, to help us understand, to come to terms with the truth of the past and how it continues in the present, so we can move forward strengthened by our awareness and understanding, to create positive change, and to stop saying, “just get over it.”