Two Cree sisters who go to school in Winnipeg’s St. James Assiniboia School Division are outraged that their schools did not acknowledge the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, also known as Red Dress Day.
Peggy-Lee Brenton is a Grade 10 student at Collège Sturgeon Heights Collegiate, and her younger sister, Marguerita Brenton, is in Grade 8 at École Ness.
The two girls wore red shirts to school on Thursday with the slogan, “No more stolen sisters.” They were heartbroken to see that they were the only ones participating. None of the staff, including principals, wore red.
“I do know they were encouraged to, and emails were sent to every student about it and every parent. So there’s no excuse for them lacking to wear red,” Peggy-Lee said.
When one of Marguerita’s teachers at École Ness was taking attendance in the morning, she says he wrote “Cinco de Mayo” on the white board. He never mentioned the national day meant to honour and remember MMIWG.
Later in the day, her homeroom teacher asked the class what their favourite Mexican food was, again acknowledging Cinco de Mayo.
WATCH | Sisters talk about their schools’ apparent snubbing of Red Dress Day:
Marguerita shared an answer, and then announced that it was also Red Dress Day. Her teacher asked her what that was.
While she explained the importance of the day to her teacher and classmates, she said they were making jokes and didn’t appear to be listening. She felt ignored.
“I was heartbroken to see our voices were being silenced again. Nobody would listen,” Marguerita said.
‘We could be next’
Peggy-Lee says the day was not just meant for remembering the Indigenous lives lost, but to raise awareness that the violence is ongoing.
“Our women and girls are dying. Our women are going missing. We are scared to go out by ourselves, our parents won’t let us go out anywhere by ourselves because they know we could be next,” she said.
She says the experience at school Thursday was dehumanizing for her.
“It’s not their lives or their family members lives that are at risk, it’s our lives.”
If they truly saw us as people, like they see themselves and their people, then they would be just as outraged and just as heartbroken as we are.– Peggy-Lee Brenton
In a written statement sent to CBC News Friday, a spokesperson for the school division said that the day was was “uniquely and specially honoured by St. James Collegiate.”
Neither of the Brenton sisters are students at St. James Collegiate.
The spokesperson sent another statement later in the day, saying some of its schools chose to honour missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls on May 5, while others will plan to do it on the official provincial awareness day on Oct. 4.
“Our school division is on its own reconciliation journey, educating our students, families, staff and community,” the statement reads. “This is an issue that requires thoughtful, meaningful, authentic work in our schools, and we want to ensure we are engaging respectfully.”
Peggy-Lee wants her school to make up for the missed day, by devoting a full day to learning about missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and gender diverse people.
“I want a whole day. I don’t want them to do half a day. I don’t want them to do part of a day, or one class. I want a full day to educate every single person in my school,” Peggy-Lee said, adding that she is open to meet with her principal to discuss what can be done
Marguerita wants École Ness to honour MMIWG in the morning announcements when they do land acknowledgements.
“Just because they missed yesterday is not an excuse not to do it [at all],” Peggy-Lee says.