People were appalled when the truth about serial killer Robert Pickton came to light. In 2007 he was convicted of second-degree murder in the deaths of six women; however, he confessed to 49 murders. The majority of Pickton’s victims were Indigenous women who had high risk lifestyles, namely addictions or working in the sex trade.
But, before Robert Pickton, the case of little Tamra Keepness broke our hearts right here at home in Saskatchewan. Tamra was five years old when she went missing from her Regina home on July 5, 2004.
From 1980 and 2012, Indigenous women and girls represented 16% of all female homicides in Canada while representing only 4% of the female population in Canada. A 2011 Statistics Canada report estimated that from 1997 and 2000, the rate of homicide for Aboriginal females was almost seven times higher than other females. (source)
We will find the truth by gathering stories from many people. (Mission of The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls)
The National Inquiry intro Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls began in December 2015 and concluded on June 30, 2019. The Final Report states that ongoing persistent and deliberate human and Indigenous rights violations and abuses are the root cause behind the horrific violence against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people.
More than 2,380 family members, survivors of violence, experts and Knowledge Keepers shared their stories over the course of the inquiry. The Final Report delivers 231 individual Calls for Justice directed at governments, institutions, social service providers, industries and all Canadians.
“As documented in the Final Report, testimony from family members and survivors of violence spoke about a surrounding context marked by multigenerational and intergenerational trauma and marginalization in the form of poverty, insecure housing or homelessness and barriers to education, employment, health care and cultural support. Experts and Knowledge Keepers spoke to specific colonial and patriarchal policies that displaced women from their traditional roles in communities and governance and diminished their status in society, leaving them vulnerable to violence.” source
On November 8, I attended the chamber opera Missing at the Regina Performing Arts Centre. It is a masterpiece about Canada’s missing and murdered Indigenous women, set in Vancouver and along the Highway of Tears. It was brought to Regina by the Regina Symphony Orchestra and Regina Treaty/Status Indian Services to commemorate the lives and legacies of missing and murdered Indigenous women. Tissue boxes were provided throughout the audience because of the emotional content. Cultural and mental health support workers attended the performances as well to assist audience members experiencing trauma or trauma triggers. There were survivors in attendance and families of those who are still missing or murdered. It was a very emotional experience and a powerful way of acknowledging the reality of so many families while raising awareness about MMIWG.
There are also several events and exhibits that take place to bring awareness and honour the missing. Several years ago when I was at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights in Winnipeg, I saw the REDress exhibit. Jaime Black, a Métis artist from Winnipeg, collected hundreds of donated red dresses from the community since she first created the project in 2011. The art installation has been displayed in museums and university campuses across Canada. Black has said she chose the color red after a friend explained that it was the only color spirits could see. In that sense, the color, she said, is a “calling back of the spirits of these women”. source
Another event that takes place is Walking With Our Sisters, a commemorative art installation of over 1700 moccasin vamps (tops). It was created by artist Christi Belcourt to remember and honour missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
There are supports in place for families of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. In Saskatchewan, the FSIN Family Information Liaison Unit (FILU) has a service for families of MMIWG. Family Information Liaison Officers are committed to work with families in a trauma informed manner, practicing traditional protocols to support individuals, families and communities for mental wellness and healing. Those eligible for services include family members, both blood relations and those who are non-blood relations such as adopted family, as well as those considered kin and street family.
Tamara Bernard’s TedTalk encourages hope, love, empowerment and igniting a new way of learning together as a nation. Personally connected to her topic through her great grandmother, she has been speaking out about “Decolonization of Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women”, giving a voice to the voiceless.
I have introduced my students to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls with the poetry of Nickita Longman and have tried to help my students understand the systemic oppression of centuries of indigenous rights that has resulted in this reality. I have curated a Wakelet of resources that I use in my classroom – MMIWG Wakelet . Please feel free to use it, share it, or contribute to it. The conversations are difficult, but necessary. All Canadians who embark upon a journey of truth and reconciliation share in the responsibility to bear witness and to bring peace and justice to the missing, the murdered, and their loved ones.