Inuit advocates join in Mother's Day MMIWG walk for first time

As 200 people walked through downtown Winnipeg to honour missing and murdered Indigenous women, there was a new group in the mix: Inuit women.

15th annual walk honours missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls

Mother's Day marks the 15th year for a memorial walk for Indigenous women and girls who have been missing or murdered in Canada. About 200 people took part in Sunday's walk. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

It's been 15 years since the first walk through Winnipeg was held on Mother's Day to honour missing and murdered Indigenous women.

But this year was the first time people like Nikki Komaksiutiksak were in the crowd.

Komaksiutiksak is a family support worker with the Manitoba Inuit Association, working with families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

She said too often, Inuit women have been excluded from those conversations.

"I have a sister that was murdered 17 years ago here in Manitoba, in Winnipeg. She was 17 years old, she was a child that was in care, and she was overlooked and dismissed upon her death," Komaksiutiksak said.

"That's something that me and my family have struggled with all these years. And so it's just super important that we're able to have that voice and be able to remember her."

Nikki Komaksiutiksak, with the Manitoba Inuit Association, works as a support worker. She says Inuit are often left out of the conversation surrounding missing and murdered Indigenous women. (Marina von Stackelberg/CBC)

The Mother's Day Memorial Walk honours the many Indigenous mothers, grandmothers, sisters, daughters, and two-spirited people who are missing and murdered.  

This was Komaksiutiksak's first time helping to organize the walk, which drew about 200 people this year.

"Inuit are affected just like the rest of the population," she said.

"One of the things that I found, even just living in the city the past 30 years, is that Inuit are often misrepresented and excluded from conversations and issues that arise, and that needs to change," she said.

"Inuit are typically from the northern part of Canada. So 30 years ago, you didn't really see Inuit congregating in the southern parts of Canada. But things are changing," Komaksiutiksak said.

Honouring mothers lost

Indigenous women are six times more likely to go missing or be murdered compared to the rest of the population, according to Canada's Department of Justice.

It's important to honour these lost women on a day like Mother's Day, Komaksiutiksak said.

"These girls that are missing or murdered are mothers," she said. "Some of them dreamed of being a mother. So I think it's full circle of what has been taken, and what could have been."

Two-hundred people walked through the streets of downtown Winnipeg in the 15th annual Mother's Day Memorial Walk. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

At this year's walk, many wore red while others dressed in regalia.

Most carried a single flower, or a poster in the shape of a butterfly, each one bearing the name of an Indigenous woman who has gone missing or been murdered in Manitoba.

Organizer Alaya McIvor said it's about sending a message of love to those mothers, and also the families that are still here.

"Some of them have left their children behind. We wanted to show those kids who don't have a mom now, that we're here," McIvor said.

'It's mother's day and someone is missing their mommy,' said a sign at the walk. (Marina von Stackelberg/CBC)

McIvor said this isn't just an issue facing First Nations people, but one that affects all Indigenous people, and the entire community at large, no matter their race.

Statistics from Canada's Department of Justice also show that 17 per cent of homicides of Indigenous women occurred on a street, a road, or a highway, compared to one per cent of homicides of non-Indigenous women.

Walk started after Sunshine Wood disappeared

The memorial walk was started in Winnipeg 15 years ago, when 16-year-old Sunshine Wood disappeared in February 2004.    

This year's walk began at the St. Regis parking lot on Smith Street — the last place Wood was seen. 

Flowers are laid at a memorial at The Forks in Winnipeg, which honours missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. (Marina von Stackelberg/CBC)

This year's group walked through the streets of downtown Winnipeg, past the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, and ended at a monument at the Forks that honours missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

McIvor said 15 years later, the fight continues.

"We're here. We're not going anywhere. We're drawing attention to this every year."

About the Author

Marina von Stackelberg is a CBC journalist based in Winnipeg. She previously worked for CBC in Halifax and Sudbury. Connect with her @CBCMarina or