A group of Grade 7 students from Deerwood School in Thompson, Man., took to the streets on Thursday to raise awareness about missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people.
Chanting “silent no more” in unison, the students marched with signs and banners in honour of the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, also known as Red Dress Day.
The walk was organized by the students after learning about MMIWG2S in their social studies class, taught by Sarah Schroeder.
“This all came about because one of the students said that their cousin went missing recently, and so the students wanted to take action as soon as they started learning that they had a classmate that was directly affected by this,” Schroeder said.
Charlie Slaney, one of Schroeder’s students, was shocked to learn how many Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people have gone missing in Canada — and how many of those disappearances haven’t been investigated.
“I was amazed that there are so many names with no [police] files,” Slaney said.
WATCH | Grade 7 students from Deerwood School in Thompson, Man., march for Red Dress Day:
Communities across Canada held events today to mark Red Dress Day, which stemmed from the REDress Project by Métis artist Jaime Black.
In 2010, she displayed an installation at the University of Winnipeg that included red dresses to symbolize the lives of Indigenous women and girls lost to violence.
People are now encouraged to wear red on May 5 to honour the missing and murdered people and their families.
When Schroeder and her class heard about a student’s missing loved one, they worked together to find a way to raise awareness. In addition to planning and participating in Thursday’s walk, the students recorded local radio messages to raise awareness about MMIWG.
The student’s cousin has since been safely located.
‘We all have a responsibility to act’
Hilda Anderson-Pyrz, a member of the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation in Manitoba, is the chair of the National Family and Survivors Circle — an organization to support families and survivors that was established in response to the calls for action from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
For her, Red Dress Day is about honouring the lives lost and urging officials to take action.
“We all have a responsibility to act,” Anderson-Pyrz says.
“There has to be the political will to follow through so that transformative change can happen, and all forms of violence can end toward Indigenous women, girls and gender-diverse people.”
Last June, the federal government released a long-awaited action plan for implementing the 231 calls to justice identified in the final 2019 report from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
Anderson-Pyrz says that in addition to political will, there needs to be an accountability framework.
The MMIWG report’s Call to Justice 1.7 asks for a national Indigenous and human rights ombudsperson, with authority in all jurisdictions, to be appointed.
That call is among many that have yet to be fulfilled.
Families gather to remember loved ones
Among the people gathered at community events in Manitoba Thursday were families with missing or murdered loved ones. Kim McPherson’s sister, Jennifer Dawn McPherson, was murdered nine years ago by her husband.
“She comes to me in many ways,” said Kim, who attended a ceremony at Oodena Circle at The Forks in Winnipeg.
“If I’m doing something, if I’m eating or driving along our old neighbourhood … every day I think of her, or I dream of her.”
What she misses the most about her sister is her giggle and her smile.
Kim also honoured her aunt, Jennifer Johnston, who was killed in the 1980s.
Outside Winnipeg’s city hall, red dresses were hung on display.
Dozens of people gathered in ceremony, including 16-year-old Kyrra Kematch. Her family hasn’t heard from her aunt, Amber Guibouche, since 2010.
Her late father, Kyle Kematch, was one of the co-founders of Drag The Red, a volunteer group that scoured the Red River for any trace of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
When he died suddenly in September 2021, Kyrra began working with Drag The Red in his honour.
“You don’t want to go to bed not knowing where your brother, your sister, your grandma, your auntie is. It’s the worst feeling,” Kematch says.
“Everybody deserves to be brought home.”