Winnipeg football player reps MMIWG face paint at U.S. tournament
'I was able to take a stand ... without having to say anything,' says St. John's Nick Wakos
Before hitting the gridiron on a California First Nation last week, Nick Wakos brushed black paint on his hand, pressed his palm to his face, and wept with his mother.
"It's all I could think about out there, was the stories that aren't being told, and the women who are being tossed aside … and the families who are hurting and grieving in silence," Wakos said.
Wakos was the only Canadian to play in the second annual Indigenous Bowl in Soboba, Calif., where Indigenous players from across the continent gathered to train, practise and compete.
The 17-year-old decided to play with a black handprint on his face covering his mouth, a symbol that has come to represent the huge rate of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada.
"I was able to take a stand, and have something to say, without [actually] having to say anything," he said. "Everyone on the reserve and everyone at the game knew what the black face paint across my face meant."
The Grade 12 student from St. John's High School in Winnipeg said he wanted his message to be seen by players from across the United States, and his peers back home.
"It was a message for teens and youth to step up in their community," he said, pointing to the number of missing women from his First Nation, Sagkeeng.
It's an issue that's dear to him, as he has personally known some of the women who have disappeared or been killed.
"When I put the face paint on, it was really uplifting to know that all of them stood for exactly what I stood for," he said.
The recent national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls found they are 12 times more likely to be murdered or missing than any other demographic in the country.
With files from Cory Funk