Campaign to raise awareness of MMIWG

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Honouring missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls is the motivation behind a newly launched campaign from the Southern Chiefs’ Organization, which represents 34 First Nations in southern Manitoba.

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Honouring missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls is the motivation behind a newly launched campaign from the Southern Chiefs’ Organization, which represents 34 First Nations in southern Manitoba.

On Tuesday, the National Day of Action for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG), the Southern Chiefs’ Organization (SCO) rolled out an awareness campaign to draw attention to the crisis.

Offering his “steadfast support” and a promise to continue advocating for “impactful change and justice,” SCO Grand Chief Jerry Daniels stated in a press release that the ongoing issue is “tragic.”

Southern Chiefs' Organization Grand Chief Jerry Daniels, pictured here during a ceremony in downtown Winnipeg in April, said the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirited people is a tragic one that the SCO is addressing through an awareness campaign launched Tuesday. (File)

“We are still at the point where I have to offer my heartfelt sympathies to an increasing number of grieving MMIWG and two-spirited people’s families,” he said.

SCO’s campaign, the release said, involves taking a “multimedia approach” to create awareness of MMIWG, including signage and billboards throughout southern Manitoba. The organization is also distributing vigil candles, booklets and posters throughout October.

The campaign has taken a broad communications approach to appeal to people through every medium possible and raise awareness about MMIWG, Daniels told the Sun.

“We’re really trying to look at an exhaustive sort of communications campaign to speak to … the importance of the topic.”

Some of the “tangible” ways to make Canada a safer place for Indigenous women and girls, Daniels said, include paying close attention and working toward the action items in the National Inquiry and Calls for Justice, a national inquiry launched into MMIWG, independent from the federal government.

“It’s a societal-wide blueprint for organizations and for people and different groups to engage and make it a part of their culture as something that is foundational,” Daniels said. “You want to create the foundation for equality.”

The problem that the SCO and other groups often encounter, Daniels said, is that many institutions “are not built like that.”

“You have to almost rebuild it or have leadership that is absolutely in favour and champion for making those changes.”

Vigilance is key, Daniels said. Every opportunity should be taken to make the world a safer place for women, he added, from governments to families.

“A lot of this is at the dinner table — the conversations we have, the language that we use. It’s important for changing the cultural language and values.”

Lola Thunderchild, chief of Canupawakpa Dakota First Nation, located 95 kilometres southwest of Brandon, said in the release that MMIWG is an issue that is “close” to all people across Turtle Island.

“We cannot rest for a moment on this file. We need to do all we can to support our families and communities and to keep all of our children and youth in their homes and communities.”

Thunderchild didn’t respond to a request for comment by press time.

Although Indigenous women make up only four per cent of Canada’s female population, 16 per cent of all women murdered in the country between 1980 and 2012 were Indigenous, according to the province’s Indigenous Reconciliation and Northern Relations website.

In 2017, 24 per cent of female homicide victims in Canada were Indigenous women and girls. Indigenous women are also more likely to be killed by acquaintances than their non-Indigenous counterparts and are seven times more likely to be targeted by serial killers.

Manitoba Indigenous Reconciliation and Northern Relations, with support from Manitoba Status of Women, a group that works to “advance gender equity across the province,” is developing a provincial response to the National Inquiry and Calls for Justice under the umbrella of Manitoba’s gender-based violence committee of cabinet.

In a joint statement, Premier Heather Stefanson, Indigenous Reconciliation and Northern Relations Minister Alan Lagimodiere and Rochelle Squires, the minister responsible for the status of women, said they were mourning the tragic loss of lives “taken too soon” on Tuesday.

The statement hearkened back to 2017, when the province passed Bill 221, the MMIWG Awareness Day Act, which proclaimed that every Oct. 4 would be MMIWG Awareness Day. Manitoba was the first province to institute the day.

The province said in the release that it continues “to consult and work collaboratively with all levels of government to implement priorities in the national action plan.”

Violence against Indigenous women, girls and two-spirited peoples in Canada is an “ongoing national tragedy,” said Tara Seel, spokesperson for the RCMP “D” Division.

While the RCMP couldn’t provide any data on MMIWG in western Manitoba, Seel said efforts are underway to address the crisis.

“The RCMP is committed to improving relationships with Indigenous communities, supporting survivors and families and ensuring that investigations are robust, professional and result in justice for the victims and their families,” she said.

Specifically, the RCMP has a national unit to provide “expertise and oversight” on major case investigations, Seel said, as well as updated policies and procedures for missing persons and sudden death investigations and strengthened cultural awareness training for all employees.

The provincial and federal governments didn’t immediately respond to the Sun’s request for additional comment and information.

» mleybourne@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @miraleybourne

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