‘My mother didn’t die for nothing,’ says Inuvik woman ahead of Yellowknife MMIWG inquiry

It wasn’t talked about.

There was pain, the family grieved, life moved on.

Lesa Semmler left her eight-year-old self behind. She comes from a family of outspoken leaders and grew up to become one herself, speaking out about violence against women.

One thing she never did was talk about her mother’s murder — until now.

The Inuvialuit mother will be one of the first to publicly testify when the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls hearings begin in Yellowknife Tuesday.

“Until the inquiry came up, I never really thought about what happened because I never really wanted anybody to feel sorry for me,” she said.

The murder

This photo of Joyce Semmler would have been taken right before she was murdered, according to her daughter, Lesa. (Submitted by Lesa Semmler)

On Jan. 11, 1985 Joyce Semmler was shot by her common-law husband, Peter Emile, in Fort Smith, N.W.T. She was 25. He then turned the gun on himself, but survived to serve prison time for her murder.

Lesa was living in Fort Smith with her mother at the time.

“It still hurts everyday when we think about it, especially this time of the year,” she said, with tears in her eyes.

Her mother was studying to become a social worker.

Joyce Semmler poses with her daughter Lesa, who would have been under the age of two here. (Submitted by Lesa Semmler)

According to court documents, on the day before her murder, Joyce Semmler filed a complaint with the RCMP against Emile. He was charged with assault.

Lesa said she and her mom were planning to leave town the day she died.

“She would pick up our things and then she’d pick me up from school, and then we would leave on the plane,” she said, adding she’s still unclear as to why her mom returned to the house alone that day.

“She probably felt that [the assault] had already happened, so she could go back and he wasn’t going to do anything. I don’t know if she didn’t ask for help or if there would have been help provided to her, or an escort to go back to the house.”

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