Indigenous

Families, advocates, organizations meet to close 'great divide' on MMIW

As an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls looms, victims' families and advocates say it's important to have everyone on the same page before it even starts.

Let's focus on 'safety, prevention, and healing' together, for women who experience violence, says advocate

As an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls looms, victims' families and advocates say it's important to have everyone on the same page before it even starts. 1:50

As an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls looms, victims' families and advocates say it's important to have everyone on the same page before it even starts.

The solution is sometimes hard to swallow says one advocate. 

"The main important thing is that we have to let go of position titles," said Nikketa Campbell, program manager for Winnipeg's Wahbung Abinoonjiiag Inc. "We just need to get back to the importance of seeing each other as equals." 

Campbell has spent the past decade working with children and families to break the cycle of violence — a cycle that is rampant in many indigenous communities across this country.
On August 19, 2014, just days after Tina Fontaine, 15, was pulled from the Red River, thousands of people gathered at the Alexander Docks and marched down Winnipeg's Main Street over to the Forks. The crowd included politicians, police, advocates, indigenous and non-indigenous people. (CBC)

On Monday, she is bringing together advocates to "bridge the gap" as part of a three-day conference on solutions to end domestic violence. The workshops are called Women are Sacred.

"It's really about coming together to talk about the importance of three main topics and that is safety, prevention, and healing," Campbell said.

Victim's families, women's groups, indigenous organizations, and even provincial and territorial governments all want a hand in stopping this tragedy from continuing, and rightfully so, said Campbell. However, she is noticing a division amongst those who want to be directly involved as the inquiry comes closer to reality, something she calls a "great divide."

"I see all these different groups, and I see the unhealthy attachment to [the issue] and realize that we need to start looking at healing, uniting and working together," said Campbell.

"This is about addressing violence itself."

No stranger to experiencing violence

Simone Sanderson, 23, was found murdered in September 2012. Nearly three years after her death, her family is still looking for answers about who is responsible. (Family photo)

Campbell's cousin, Simone Sanderson, was found in Winnipeg's north end on Sept 2, 2012. Winnipeg police confirm her death is a homicide.

Within her own family, Campbell has seen the cycle of violence continue while the healing and growth they need to find from Simone's death has been stunted.

"So me, myself, being involved in that process ... I see the gaps in that, and I feel that pain, so I know it's personal," she said.

'Women are sacred'

One of the ways Wahbung Abinoonjiiag Inc. is already working at the division in the community is by reaching out to similar organizations in other cities across the country.

The centre hopes to get a calendar together with all the different events and discussions around policies on MMIW.

Participants in the Women are Sacred event include Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson and Willie Starr, whose sister, Jennifer Catcheway, has been missing since 2008.

Wilfred Catcheway, Jennifer's dad, said stronger laws are needed to save indigenous women like his daughter.

"They're life givers so they need to be protected," he said.

North Wilson said she believes offering programming focused on teaching indigenous women from reservations how to be vigilante in bigger cities needs to be a priority. Educating young indigenous boys and girls of the potential dangers they could encounter in cities is also important, she added.

Artist Jackie Traverse will also be at the event. She started a butterfly campaign for MMIW and went knocking on doors in Winnipeg's North End, looking for her missing niece.

Traverse echoed North Wilson's concerns. She said the same kind of city survival programming needs to be offered to kids in care so that they, too, are better equipped with the knowledge of what to watch out for.

As well as members from the both the province's victims services and child and family services will be on hand. 

The conference was arranged as part of domestic violence prevention month. 

About the Author

Tiar Wilson was raised in Opaskwayak Cree Nation, Manitoba. She's reported for APTN National News, CBC Winnipeg, and CBC North. Tiar is also involved with CBC's database of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls and continues to share the stories of these women, their families and communities. She's currently reporting for CBC Aboriginal. @yourpaltiar.