Aunt wants homicide victim Tessa Perry to be ‘remembered by her spirit and how bright it was’

A mother of four is being remembered by family as a gentle, caring mother, who was working to make a better life for her and her four children. 

Tessa Perry, who was killed in a homicide in Winnipeg’s Maples area this weekend, “was a bright, beautiful light.… Her smile was contagious,” said Hilda Anderson-Pyrz, Perry’s aunt.

“She was very determined.… She went to university, she wanted to build a really secure pathway for her children — her children meant the world to her,” said Anderson-Pyrz, who has long been an outspoken advocate for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, and is a chair for the National Family and Survivors Circle.

“I want her to be remembered by her spirit and how bright it was.” 

On Saturday, Perry, 31, was found critically injured in a Maples-area home. She later died in hospital. 

Justin Alfred Robinson, 29, has been charged with second-degree murder in connection with Perry’s death.

While she regularly supports families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, Anderson-Pyrz said nothing could prepare her for the loss of her niece. 

Though she does not know the details of what happened to Perry over the weekend, “I know [Tessa] had experienced domestic violence and we would dialogue about that,” said Anderson-Pyrz, who would often help Tessa navigate the limited resources available to her.

“It’s heart-wrenching to watch when systems are not responsive to the needs of someone who is in a violent situation and trying to leave … and trying to access supports and resources to rebuild their lives.” 

Lyle Perry, Tessa’s brother, confirmed she had just moved to Winnipeg for a fresh start. 

Hilda Anderson-Pyrz is a chair for the National Family and Survivors Circle, and helps support the families of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Anderson-Pyrz said she’d like to see more supports for women escaping situations of domestic violence, including quick access to affordable housing. 

“There has to be … [a] system that is barrier-free without judgments, that can provide immediate supports to victims who are experiencing domestic violence, versus having [them] go through different hoops and waiting periods,” she said.

“That’s very detrimental to somebody who has experienced domestic violence, and puts their lives further at risk.” 

3 Indigenous women killed in 2 weeks

Perry was the third First Nations woman killed in Winnipeg in a two-week period.

On May 16, Rebecca Contois, 24, was found dead in North Kildonan. On May 19, Doris Trout, 25, was found deceased in an apartment lobby on Kennedy Avenue in downtown Winnipeg.

Those deaths are “extremely concerning,” the grand chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak said.

“These women were sacred and loved. Women are the life givers of our communities,” Garrison Settee wrote in a statement.

“We are seeing an increase in deadly violence impacting First Nations women in the city of Winnipeg.… It is clear we have much work to do in this area.” 

For Anderson-Pyrz, the three deaths so close together show just how unsafe Winnipeg is for Indigenous women. 

“It really puts a sense of fear in this city, that we’re continuing to die at alarming rates,” she said.

“There is very little action being taken for the … wellness and safety of Indigenous women and girls and two-spirit and gender diverse people. There’s a real sense of urgency to act.” 

Manitoba’s Official Opposition party echoed calls for urgent action.

“We’ve barely heard anything from the government, not a peep from the government, and I think that’s shameful and unacceptable,” said NDP MLA Nahanni Fontaine. 

“We are in the midst of an ongoing genocide against Indigenous women, girls and two-spirited, and you’d think that somebody would care, somebody would act with the urgency that this demands.” 

CBC has contacted the provincial government for comment.

With this Friday marking the third anniversary of the final report of the MMIWG inquiry, Anderson-Pyrz hopes the recent deaths in Winnipeg remain top of mind for all levels of government. 

“I would say there’s a really heightened sense of urgency to act right now.… We cannot wait for bureaucrats to sit in offices and make decisions,” she said.

“Everybody has to rise and fight with us, fight for the injustices that we experience as Indigenous women and girls.… Fight for our safety and our security.”