Facing crime

Forensic anthropologist Tanya Peckmann works to find missing Aboriginal Canadians

Date published: 2007-10-09 1:20:57 PM

While Aboriginal people are more likely to be victims of violent crime in Canada, police officers don’t have all the tools they need to solve these crimes, says forensic anthropologist Tanya Peckmann.

"Until now, Aboriginal populations have been ignored by the forensic science community," says the professor from Saint Mary’s University in
Halifax. “Right now we can’t accurately use 3-D facial reconstruction—which is crucial to identifying missing people and skeletal remains—for people of Aboriginal ancestry.”

Working closely with the Membertou First Nation community in Nova Scotia, Peckmann is embarking on the world's first program to collect tissue-depth data from Aboriginal peoples—a measurement of facial thickness that differs between ethnic groups.

"Tissue-depth data varies according to age, sex and ancestry," explains Peckmann. "Not knowing specific facial tissue depths for Aboriginal peoples has put them at a real disadvantage in the Canadian justice system."

Peckmann’s research has the potential to crack a number of cold cases involving missing Aboriginal people.

"If a child goes missing at age three, we need to project what that child will look like three years later, when the child is six, says Peckmann. “The 3-D reconstruction won't be perfectly accurate but, if we can spark a memory, we will be able to identify more missing kids and reunite them with their families."

And, she notes that this research represents another important step in securing equal rights for Aboriginal peoples in

"We want to put a face to these individuals, because they're not unknown, says Peckmann. “They're somebody's sister or daughter or mother and deserve to be found."

Tanya Peckmann’s research on forensics is supported by SSHRC’s Aboriginal Research Program.