Building a groundswell: Events pay tribute to MMIWG on national day of awareness

Red dresses, along with support and hope, were put on display Wednesday as various groups in Manitoba and across the country paid tribute to missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people.

May 5 every year is the national day of awareness of MMIWG in Canada, also known as Red Dress Day. 

Travis Barsy says it’s essential for Indigenous people and their allies to continue the push for movement on the 231 calls to action outlined in the 2019 final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

He is part of a group that hosted a walk from the Canadian Museum for Human Rights to the Manitoba legislative building in Winnipeg on Wednesday evening.

Tara Martinez also helped organized the walk. Martinez said she was trafficked years ago when she was a teenager and wanted to use the event to speak up for women who weren’t able to safely return home.

Tara Martinez is one of the organizers of the walk. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

“We have to use our voice,” she said. “It’s about safety and reconnecting with our loved ones, because they’re out there somewhere.” 

Martinez said she wants to see more preventive measures implemented to protect women. Installing lights along the Red River and creating a program where women can call for safe rides are some ways to start, she said.

“Regardless of whether we live a high-risk lifestyle or not, we’re still somebody’s daughter,” Martinez said. “I’m tired of hearing stuff like, ‘Well, they’re just partying’ when we try to report our loved ones missing.”

A red dress hangs in a window of the North End Women’s Resource Centre in Winnipeg on May 5. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

If any progress is to be made in honouring the missing and murdered and raising more understanding and compassion for the issues surrounding Indigenous people, “the first step is to be able to talk about it comfortably,” Barsy said.

“It’s our responsibility to be able to encourage everybody to take action where they see fit and feel comfortable. The reality is our Indigenous women and girls, specifically, are at a higher [risk] of going missing and being found murdered,” he said.

“Manitoba has the third highest cases of MMIW out there in Canada. Just Alberta and B.C. are ahead of us. So it’s really important that we get the conversation going.”

Other ways to show support for MMIW, Barsy noted, include wearing red on May 5, hanging a red article of clothing outside or in a window, or writing to federal Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett who is in charge of the enacting the calls for action in the national inquiry’s report.

“We’ve had some people who will change a light bulb outside of their house to a red one — anything and everything to keep that conversation going,” he said.

Also on Wednesday, Winnipgeg’s Dakota Collegiate Institute launched a quilting project to honour missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people.

A news release from Louis Riel School Division said Victoria McIntosh (Biktoryias), an Anishinaabe grandmother, artist, and educator will teach students about the “crumb quilts” her own grandmother taught her to make, using scraps to create something new while telling stories. The students will then each create their own squares with images on them.

The final quilt will be completed and celebrated on Oct. 4, the National Day of Action for MMIWG2S.

Earlier on Wednesday, the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center in the United States hosted a virtual event called Uplifting the Voices of MMIW Families.

Relatives shared their stories while people from across Canada and the U.S. spoke about the heartache of searching for missing loved ones and of mourning their deaths, and urged people to help end the violence by standing together, amplifying their voices, and building “a groundswell for action and justice.”

People can show support for MMIW by wearing red on May 5, hanging a red article of clothing outside or in a window, or writing to federal Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett who is in charge of the enacting the calls for action in the national inquiry’s report. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

“This violence touches every family. Every tribe has native women who are missing or who have been murdered,” said Malinda Limberhand from the Northern Cheyenne Nation in southeastern Montana.

Her 21-year-old daughter, Hanna Harris, went missing in July 2013. Her body was found days later only after family and friends launched a search, as police and justice officials were too slow to respond.

“Traditionally, native women were respected. Today, we face levels of violence greater than any other group of women,” Limberhand said.

“Acceptance of violence against Indian women … needs to stop. The system must change. As a mother, nothing will replace the loss of my daughter but I know that by organizing for the national day of awareness can create change that will help others.”  

Over the last decade, awareness of this national issue has increased, but more must be done to stop disappearances and save lives, the NIWRC stated in a release.

Another group, Rising Hearts, is hosting a virtual 5K, 10K and half marathon that can be completed between May 5-9. Money raised goes to support NIWRC.