'Going to give our sisters a voice': Leaders react to Yukon's MMIWG2S+ strategy
'Yukon continues to inspire,' says federal minister
Territorial and federal leaders are applauding Yukon's new Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-spirit+ strategy, saying it should be a beacon for community leaders and the rest of Canada.
"When it feels overwhelming, use this strategy as your guide," said Kwanlin Dün First Nation Chief Doris Bill.
Several leaders signed on to the strategy's 31 action items on Thursday, pledging their commitment to uphold dignity and justice for Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people.
"Yukon continues to inspire," said Carolyn Bennett, the federal minister of Crown-Indigenous relations. She said Yukon is setting a "tremendous" example for the rest of Canada through its Indigenous-lead solutions.
The plan, "Changing the Story to Upholding Dignity and Justice: Yukon's MMIWG2S+ People Strategy," is a territory-wide approach to address the tragedy of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people over the next 10 to 15 years.
The strategy was produced after a year of consultation with family members, First Nations governments and leaders. It is Yukon's response to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls final report.
Families have demanded rapid action, said Ann Maje Raider, executive director of Liard Aboriginal Women's Society and co-chair of the Yukon Advisry Commitee.
Indigenous women need justice, truth and reparation in order to have dignity, she said.
"The need to uphold justice for Indigenous women and girls is urgent," said Maje Raider.
"We must never forget this."
Budget being developed
Yukon claims its strategy is the first of its kind in Canada.
A budget is being developed for the strategies' high-priority actions, said Yukon Women's Directorate Minister Jeanie McLean. She highlighted community safety as a top issue.
On Thursday, McLean talked about Brandy Vittrekwa, a 17-year-old girl from the Kwanlin Dün First Nation who was killed in Whitehorse six years ago this week.
"I've held her in my heart throughout this entire time," said McLean.
"I want to tell her family that she was loved, she is missed, and she has inspired me to do what we're doing here today."
Chief Bill underscored that this is not a government strategy, but rather involves the "whole of Yukon." McLean said First Nations, the territorial government, and women's groups will figure out who should lead and fund each action item.
McLean said she believes Yukon's strategy will help guide the national action plan.
"An Indigenous prophecy says that healing will come from the North," said McLean, speaking at a sacred fire ceremony prior to the event. "I feel that's part of what we're doing here today."
'A profound day'
Yukon Premier Sandy Silver called it "a profound day," saying the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls has been allowed to go on for too long
"I want to recognize the pain, the loss and the trauma that too many families have experienced in our territory," said Silver. "Know that we hold your experiences and your wisdom close and dear. You are the heart of this strategy and always will be."
Maje Raider called on people to draw on the expertise of Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people.
"My sister died in the 70s. My sister did not have any rights. My sister did not have a right to vote. My sister did not have a voice," said Raider.
"But we collectively are going to give our sisters a voice. And that's why I'm here."
Asked to envision Yukon 10 to 15 years from now, Maje Raider said the following:
"I envision someday in a future where we don't have [...] five generations of our granddaughters and our grandbabies holding up plaques and protesting to end the violence against our Indigenous women and girls. I could see no more systems embedded in racism and humiliation," said Raider.
"I envision a time where our young men are ... taking up the drums because one of their sisters had been hurt. I see more men involved. I see a community that's standing up in solidarity ... Where all Yukoners raise their hands in protest against this violence. That's what I see."
Written by Laura Howells, with files from Jackie Hong and Danielle d'Entremont