Local organizations band together for MMIWG Awareness month

By Ken Kellar
Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Several local organizations are joining forces to help shine a light on the ongoing crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) throughout the month of May.

The United Native Friendship Centre (UNFC), Gizhewaadiziwin Health Access Centre and the Spirit of Hope project of Treaty 3 Police have joined together to create the “Treaty #3 MMIWG Awareness Month Events” Facebook page, a place where they will feature a number of events throughout the month that will serve to raise awareness and educate the public about the ongoing crisis. Each of the events will be open to everyone via Zoom.

The first event on offer, which is itself made up of a number of different virtual pieces including a documentary screening, will take place on May 5. According to a release from the group, May 5 was the birthday of Hanna Harris, a 21-year-old member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe who went missing on July 4, 2013.

“Beginning in 2017, the national movement to end violence against Native women has been organizing activities” the release said.

The crisis of MMIWG was brought to the larger public consciousness relatively recently, following the final report published by the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in June of 2019, but the issues the report brought up have been impacting First Nation communities and families for much longer.

“The National Inquiry’s Final Report reveals that persistent and deliberate human and Indigenous rights violations and abuses are the root cause behind Canada’s staggering rates of violence against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people,” the release explained.

“According to the inquiry’s backgrounder, between the years 1980 and 2012, Indigenous women and girls represented 16 per cent of all female homicides in Canada, while constituting only 4 per cent of the female population in Canada.”

Jody Smith is the co-ordinator for the Spirit of Hope program at Treaty 3 Police. Smith was hired on as co-ordinator in January 2021. The project itself addresses sexual violence, harassment and human trafficking, according to Smith, and is available to provide support to those in need within the Treaty 3 region. This makes the Spirit of Hope a perfect partner for the themes of the awareness month. Smith and Katlynn Jewell, a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and child nutrition worker at Gizhewaadiziwin Health Access Centre, said that several events planned for the month are still being finalized, but the May 5 event is being put on both as an informative virtual session and as a traditional kick-off for the month.

Howard Copenace, an elder from Whitefish Bay, will be one of the dignitaries invited to the event, and will be singing and discussing a song he has written in honour of MMIWG. Smith said Kathie Jack, of Onigaming First Nation, will also be attending to help open the month from a traditional perspective.

Jewell noted there is still more planned for the day in addition to the songs and elders.

“We’re also showing a documentary called ‘The Highway of Tears,'” Jewell continued.

“It’s about the 725-kilometre corridor of highway 16 between Prince George and Prince Rupert in British Columbia which has been the location of many missing and murdered Indigenous women beginning in the 1970s. It talks about the women who have gone missing out there and how they can’t find them.”

Jewell shared that Jessica Wilson of Fort Frances Tribal Area Health will also be speaking at the event about sex trafficking, which she said is a key issue surrounding MMIWG.

The group is also issuing a challenge to local businesses, organizations and individuals to show their support of MMIWG awareness. The challenge is aimed at both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

“We’re asking them to display anything red within their businesses or within their homes,” Smith said.

“They can display a red dress, or maybe paint a window decal, showing their support and creating that awareness of MMIWG.”

Smith said the intent was to still have people come together in recognizing the importance of raising awareness around MMIWG. What could have been a one-day thing serves the cause better by taking advantage of the whole month.

“We’re trying to reach out to different members in different regions to create that awareness,” she said.

“We’re really stressing the education and raising awareness as much as we can, but also being culturally fit, including traditional openings and using songs.”

Smith, Jewell and more members of the partner groups will be finalizing some of the events and speakers that are lined up for the events throughout the month of May, and will be updating the “Treaty #3 MMIWG Awareness Month Events” Facebook page as new information and events are ready to be shared. For more information about the opening event on May 5, which is scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m., along with information on how to take part, head to the Facebook page.

Keep an eye on the Fort Frances Times throughout the month for more previews of events and speakers.