Winnipeg high schoolers aim to inspire change with community forum on MMIWG2S

A community forum to discuss missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people took place at a Winnipeg high school on Thursday evening.

Students at Gordon Bell High School organized the forum to address poverty and gender equality — two of the United Nations’ 17 sustainable development goals — with a particular focus on Indigenous people in the city.

“It’s definitely a heavy topic … but we’re giving a lot of people a chance to get their voices out there,” Sheldon Bayer, student organizer and host of the event, told CBC News.

“We really thought that we could inspire our community and get a message out there about this growing epidemic.”

Three speakers were featured at the forum: advocate Leslie Spillett, artist Jaime Black, and Cambria Harris, who is the daughter of one of the believed victims of alleged serial killer Jeremy Skibicki.

“I think having events like this is so important for the community, and for the young people to realize that their voices actually do matter,” Black said during her speech at the forum.

A teen boy with curly black hair and glasses smiles for the camera in a high school gymnasium with tables set up in the background.
Bayer hoped attendees walked away from the event with an aim to spread awareness and end the violence. (Emily Brass/CBC)

The Métis artist created the REDress Project to draw attention to the violence that Indigenous women face.

“An idea came to me to put up a red dress … to put up 100 red dresses, to continue to have the reality of this violence put in front of the public so that they couldn’t forget,” she said.

Although the project achieved its goal of creating awareness by sprouting into Red Dress Day, Black said change is still needed across the board to end the violence.

“Even though it’s hard, even though it’s scary, we can support each other. And [by] doing that … we can actually make change happen.”

Violence creates everyday impacts

Spillett said the youth who organized the forum inspired her, because violence toward Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people affects many lives each day.

“We know that the statistics are incredibly disturbing when it comes to violence against Indigenous women,” she told CBC News.

“I raise my hands to these youths who are doing this work.”

Bayer hoped attendees walked away from the event with an aim to spread awareness and end the violence.

“We just think that this is a super important topic that needs to be talked about more, especially within our community and Winnipeg as a whole.”