The head of the Native Women’s Association of Canada says it’s clear there’s an ongoing emergency nearly four years after the final report into missing and murdered Indigenous woman and girls was released.
“We are in a crisis,” said Carol McBride.
Red dresses are set to be on display across the country Friday to recognize the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirit People. It has become known as Red Dress Day and the empty garments serve as a symbol of lives that have been lost.
Each year there are more events, rallies and art displays. Despite the increased awareness and an extensive national inquiry, McBride said the situation that Indigenous girls and women face has not substantially changed.
“I’m a mother. I’m a sister. I’m an aunt,” she said. “And I’m just imagining some of our families and our women are suffering right now.”
The inquiry’s final report was released in 2019 and included sweeping calls for change. It found Indigenous women and girls are 12 times more likely to be murdered or go missing than any other group in Canada.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accepted the findings of the inquiry, which said the crisis amounted to genocide.
Sixty-three per cent of Indigenous women have experienced violence and nearly half have experienced sexual assault, Statistics Canada said in a report last year.
Winnipeg has been called ground zero.
At least 28 Indigenous women in Manitoba have died due to violence since May 2020, said Sandra DeLaronde, team lead for the Manitoba MMIWG2S+ implementation team. The majority were in Winnipeg.
A group hung 101 red dresses along a chain-link fence outside a landfill in the Manitoba capital over the winter. Winnipeg police have said the bodies of four Indigenous women were disposed of in landfills last year.
The remains of three of the women have not been found. A man has been charged with first-degree murder in the killings of the four women.
The remains of another Indigenous woman were also found in a landfill earlier this year. Police said her death is not a homicide.
“When I think (about it), I cry,” DeLaronde said. “I have to focus on the thousands of women and girls that are still here and how we can keep them safe.”
DeLaronde said it’s important to recognize that Indigenous people are sacred, and they should not only be honoured when they are gone.
The House of Commons unanimously backed a motion Tuesday declaring the deaths and disappearances of Indigenous women and girls a Canada-wide emergency. It also called for funding a new system to alert the public when someone goes missing.
“The truth is the truth,” said Leah Gazan, the Winnipeg member of Parliament who presented the motion. “It’s one thing to acknowledge truth. It’s another thing to act on it.”
The Native Women’s Association of Canada has criticized the federal government for not doing more or acting fast enough. McBride said Tuesday’s motion was an important step, but there is more to do.
Most of the money announced to fulfil the inquiry’s 231 calls to justice became stuck in government bureaucracy, DeLaronde said, and it has not made it to the front lines and the Indigenous women and families who need it.
DeLaronde added that all Canadians should use Red Dress Day to reflect on what they can do to create change.
“Red Dress is a movement that people can get behind, because it’s an opportunity to transform the very fabric of this country.”
Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 5, 2023.