Faced with increasing violence against Indigenous women, many groups are calling on the federal government to finally implement the Calls for Justice made two years ago by the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG).
May 5 marked Red Dress Day, a day of commemoration for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. Conceived by Winnipeg Métis artist Jaime Black in 2010 in a public art installation in called the REDress Project, the display of red dresses to symbolize the disappeared has since become an international event.
However, Lorraine Whitman, President of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, says that not enough has changed since then. “Eleven years later, the deaths and the disappearances continue in this country and, indeed, across the Americas,” Whitman said in a statement.
“Eleven years later, the government has produced no national action plan to stop the violence. Eleven years later, Indigenous women are no safer than they were on that day when Ms. Black hung that first red dress in Manitoba,” she stated.
Events to honour Indigenous women and girls were held across the country, including in Winnipeg, Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto and London.
The MMIWG National Inquiry completed its work in 2019 after hearing from over 2,300 participants. Its final report included 231 calls to action aimed at all levels of government, as well as all Canadians. It concluded that violence against Indigenous women and girls amounted to a genocide.
While the RCMP had recorded nearly 1,200 cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, the inquiry said the figures were unreliable and were likely to be much higher, which Indigenous advocates had always maintained.
In response to the lack of federal action, the Assembly of First Nations will develop its own National Action Plan to End Violence Against Indigenous Women in Canada. The AFN announced a series of regional engagement sessions across the country to inform the plan.
In Quebec, one such session was hosted by the AFN Women’s Council and AFN Quebec-Labrador May 18.
That news came as the Urban Indian Health Institute, an Indigenous organization in the United States, released a report showing that domestic violence cases have risen by 8% since the beginning of the Covid pandemic.
The institute called for support for necessities such as food and housing, mental health services, self-care and healing practices, and funding to support physical safety.
The report’s authors also called for increased cultural safety in care, noting that Indigenous peoples often face discrimination in healthcare systems, and for institutions to support and hire Indigenous therapists when possible.
The 2021 federal budget committed $2.2 billion over five years to address root issues of violence against Indigenous women and girls, on initiatives related to culture loss and language, poverty, housing, food security, employment, education, health care, infrastructure and access to justice.
One of the MMIWG National Inquiry commissioners, Marion Buller, criticized the budget for using the words “national tragedy” instead of “genocide”, according to a CBC report. Buller also questioned the $2.2 billion commitment to an action plan that has yet to be released. The government has yet to commit to a target date for releasing any action plan.
In Montreal, the Iskweu project, affiliated with the Native Women’s Shelter, announced a new toll-free number that families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls can call for assistance with filing police reports and other issues.
The goal is to support Indigenous families who may not have much faith in the police by having an organization assist them and advocate on their behalf. Anyone with information or questions about missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls are encouraged to phone 1-855-547-5938.