Manitoba

Hundreds gather to support families of missing, murdered indigenous women

As hundreds of people streamed into Winnipeg's Indian and Metis Friendship Centre on Thursday, Sue Caribou thought about members of her family who have been taken, killed or possibly both — for two of them, she can't be sure.

Fundraiser solicits donations to foundation that provides culturally sensitive support

Hundreds gather for fundraiser in support of families of missing, murdered indigenous women

6 years ago
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Forever in Our Hearts Pancake Breakfast Fundraiser was held at the Metis Friendship Centre Thursday morning. 1:47
As hundreds of people streamed into Winnipeg's Indian and Metis Friendship Centre on Thursday, Sue Caribou thought about members of her family who have been taken, killed or possibly both — for two of them, she can't be sure.
Sue Caribou, whose niece Tanya Nepinak is among Manitoba's missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, is pleased so many people came out and supported the Families First Foundation. (Meaghan Ketcheson/CBC)

"My first caregiver was Nancy Dumas," she told CBC.

"When we came home from residential, she would look after us."

Dumas was 78 when she disappeared from Lynn Lake, Man., after leaving her daughter's home. That was in 1987, and she hasn't been seen since.

Twenty-three years later, Caribou's family hoped they would find the body of her niece, Tanya Jane Nepinak, in Winnipeg's Brady Landfill.

"But they stopped the search," she said.

With a $5 bill in her hand, Nepinak vanished from Winnipeg's streets while walking to a pizza restaurant in 2011.

So on Thursday, Caribou described feeling overwhelmed while watching people leave monetary donations at the friendship centre, during a free pancake breakfast put on to raise money for families like her own.

The money is for the Families First Foundation for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, which was recommended in a report that called for culturally sensitive support for families whose loved ones are missing or dead.

Caribou, who is on the foundation's board, said funds raised will help families meet particular needs.

"The money is going to help the families either get a headstone or have a feast for their loved one or ceremony," she said.

"Counselling if they need counselling … some family members will have maybe a good holiday, Christmas holiday."

Police offer support

The breakfast was a partnership of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC), the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre and the Winnipeg Police Service.

Between 8 a.m. and 11 a.m., officers served pancakes to those who came through the doors.

For Caribou, the gesture was meaningful, considering historical tension between police and indigenous communities across the country, particularly in the context of missing and murdered girls and women.

"We do need to be partners [with police] and we need to be going on the same path and … same direction," she said.

"I hope we come as one and be treated equal, like everybody else."

Care, respect for families

Karen Harper of the AMC, one of the breakfast's organizers, said there was no fundraising goal for the event, but it was important for families to see the community show up.

Karen Harper is one of the organizers with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs of the Forever in Our Hearts Pancake Breakfast on Thursday. (Meaghan Ketcheson/CBC)

"Feeling honoured, feeling respected, knowing that people really do care — and that is our grassroots people, they really do care," Harper said.

The Families First Foundation's objectives are similar: Educating the public on families' needs and co-ordinating the delivery of religious, spiritual, emotional, cultural and financial support are at the top of the list.

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