Indigenous leaders and advocates in Winnipeg say the MMIWG crisis is a national state of emergency
'It's become a genocide,' MLA Bernadette Smith says
WARNING: This story contains distressing details.
More than 100 advocates, allies and surviving loved ones gathered on Sunday at Oodena Circle in Winnipeg to call for a national state of emergency to be declared for missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people.
"It's become a genocide against us. I should feel just as safe as any non-Indigenous person to walk this street," Point Douglas MLA and MMIWG family member Bernadette Smith said.
One by one, people approached a megaphone and read the name of an Indigenous woman who was missing or murdered as a way to draw attention to vast number of cases in the province.
Sunshine Wood. Crystal Saunders. Amanda Bartlett. Jennifer Catcheway. Leah Anderson.
The crowd echoed their names in solidarity, until Oodena Circle was full and dozens of names — too many to list — had been spoken.
"Hearing all the names today … why does there have to be so many?" Delores Daniels said.
Her daughter, Serena McKay, was killed in 2017 by two schoolmates on Sagkeeng First Nation.
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Sunday's rally was held days after new first-degree murder charges were laid against Jeremy Skibicki in the cases of three more missing women. He was already charged in the death of Rebecca Contois.
"Society has been given permission to do what they're doing: to look at us as disposable. But we're not. We're sacred. We're loved," Smith said.
Skibicki was arrested and charged with first-degree murder in the death of Contois, 24, of O-Chi-Chak-Ko-Sipi First Nation in May, after her partial remains were discovered in a garbage bin behind an apartment complex.
Police now allege he was also responsible for the deaths of First Nations women Morgan Harris, 39, Marcedes Myran, 26, and a third woman — also believed to be Indigenous — who has not been identified.
Their bodies have not been found.
Advocates want the fourth woman to be known as Buffalo Woman, until her family is found.
"We don't want someone to be known as unidentified," Smith said. "A life is sacred."
The name was chosen through a naming ceremony done by Ka Ni Kanichihk, an Indigenous social services organization.
Daniels said after her daughter was killed, she was also given the spirit name Buffalo Woman.
"The buffalo represents respect, and our people need to be respected, and the men out there need to respect our women," she said.
Smith will push for Winnipeg police to honour the name, she said.
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As part of the rally, Tina Fontaine's 16-year-old brother, Elton, gave an emotional speech calling for the end of an "ongoing genocide."
He's not much older than his sister was in 2014, when the 15-year-old went missing in Winnipeg. Tina's body was later found in the Red River, wrapped in plastic and a duvet cover.
At family gatherings, he and Tina would sit and drink Slurpees near a big tree in the Point Douglas neighbourhood. It's a place he still visits.
"I have a couple spots in Winnipeg where I spend time with Tina," Elton said.
"I wish I could still be there with her."
On Friday, Winnipeg police Chief Danny Smyth said while he believes the bodies of Harris and Myran are in a landfill, there are no plans to search for them.
He said too much time has passed and it wouldn't be feasible.
That's disappointing news to Hilda Anderson-Pyrz, chair of the National Family and Survivors Circle, which helps support the families of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people.
Her sister Dawn Anderson was found dead in 2011.
"It's very hard to hear as an impacted family member. What if that was your loved one? You would want to, you know, take them to their final resting place and honour them as well," she said.
"So I know it's very, very difficult. For the impacted families to hear that type of news is very heartbreaking."
Get army to search: Smith
It's imperative to bring closure for those families, even if it means bringing in troops, Smith said.
"We need the federal government to come forward, even if they send the army to go and search Brady landfill for the other three women."
It's believed that Tanya Nepinak's remains are there, too. Police believe the 31-year-old was killed in 2011. A week-long police search for her remains at the landfill in 2012 was unsuccessful.
The crowd at Oodena Circle on Sunday included many faces familiar to Smith. She says it's time that more people step up.
"That's what we want to see Canadians do … to take ownership of this issue. It's going to take all of us. It can't just be our families that are carrying this. It's heavy."
Support is available for anyone affected by details of this case. If you require support, you can contact Ka Ni Kanichihk's Medicine Bear Counselling, Support and Elder Services at 204-594-6500, ext. 102 or 104, (within Winnipeg) or 1-888-953-5264 (outside Winnipeg).
Support is also available via Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak's Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Liaison unit at 1-800-442-0488 or 204-677-1648.
- We initially reported that police Chief Danny Smyth said the bodies of Harris and Myran are in the Brady Road landfill. In fact, he did not specify which landfill.Dec 12, 2022 8:54 AM CT
With files from Stephanie Cram