Families show fierce love on day to honour missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls
Vigils and memorials across the province for women, girls, two-spirit and gender diverse people
Sunday marks the provincial day to honour missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, two-spirit and gender diverse people, but for families across Manitoba, every day is an opportunity to mourn those lost and call for justice.
After a national inquiry, which concluded that murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls are victims of a wider genocide, the investigators said they couldn't determine exactly how many MMIWG cases there are over the decades and across the country.
Many of these deaths and disappearances haven't been solved, even years later, but families are pressing on.
"I often say to folks that if you ever want to see examples of unconditional love, fierce protection and enormous amounts of courage and resiliency, all you need to do is look at MMIWG families across the country," said Nahanni Fontaine, the MLA for St. Johns on CBC Radio's Weekend Morning on Sunday.
"Our people fiercely love our children and our relatives and we'll do anything to protect them."
Even in the midst of a pandemic, Fontaine says the violence against Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people is unrelenting.
She says three Indigenous women were killed in Manitoba in the last six months, and even more have gone missing.
WATCH | Families remember lost loved ones at Winnipeg memorial:
"If there's anything that to be learned on this day and every day is to take the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and two spirited seriously and demand action for families, demand action that Indigenous women and girls are safe," she said.
"Violence doesn't rest against our women and nor should the response."
Groups around Manitoba are raising awareness for MMIWG on Sunday.
Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak's memorial walk and candlelight vigil is taking place Saturday afternoon in Thompson.
"Oct. 4 is a day to know you are not alone. As an organization, we walk with you and honour the spirits of your loved ones," said Hilda Anderson-Pyrz, the program manager for MKO's MMIWG liaison unit in a news release.
West Central Women's Resource Centre organized a group of about 100 people to make red dresses, which are being hung around the city to raise awareness about violence against Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people.
That violence is frightening for people like Serena Hickes, who is a social worker in Winnipeg.
"When you're an Indigenous woman in this country, you're hunted... For some people it's a game. We're prey," she said, noting that many women face gender-based violence, but Indigenous women are particularly targeted.
"I have a daughter, a granddaughter and a niece and I'm terrified to let them out of my sight sometimes."
Hickes says there's safety in numbers, and is calling on people to stand up for those who are most vulnerable.
"Let's rise up our voices. Let's put them up as loudly as we can, you know, as women … Let's help our men also rise up to surround us and to help us fight against those that, well, hunt us," she said.
On top of the work Fontaine does in the community to walk alongside families of MMIWG, she says she's bringing up her two sons to be protectors and advocates.
"I've always taken them with me to community meetings when we've gathered as women because so much of what we do as Indigenous mothers is try to example the way we want our children to be in the world," she said.
"I don't think that there was any greater way of doing that than bringing them at the heart of the actions that we do as a community to honour and to fight for, you know, missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls."
With files from Zoe Le Gallic-Massie and Nadia Kidwai