It is an undeniable fact, yet no one can actually provide an accurate number of how many Indigenous women, girls, two-spirit+ people go missing or are murdered each year in Canada.
It is estimated that over the past 30 or more years, that number reaches into the thousands.
And while a resulting national inquiry points to root causes such as colonialism and its related policies for violence against this vulnerable sector, there is no direct answer as to why or how this can happen to so many Canadians.
Every part of the nation has been affected by the tragedy of losing a loved one, through either violence or their disappearance.
In 2010, Winnipeg Metis artist Jaime Black created an art installation based on this issue called the ReDress project.
Black collected hundreds of red dresses and hung them up to create the installation — a representation of the many missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls who are no longer with us.
Today, that installation has now become an annual national symbol of remembrance on May 5. The ReDress project has garnered support and awareness of this disproportionate violence.
NWT Red Heart tapestry
The NWT is no exception to experiencing this trauma – and the pain of such a loss reverberates on a daily basis.
Here in the NWT, May 5 is known as the National Day of Awareness for MMIWG2S+ and it will be recognized in Yellowknife during a day-long event, starting with a march through the main street, a fire feeding ceremony and prayers, guest speakers and a sharing circle, then a drum dance to honour those no longer with us.
Tina Wrigley, the MMIWG Coordinator with the Native Women’s Association of the NWT, said they have their own special symbol of remembrance with the red heart tapestry, which hangs on a wall in their Yellowknife office.
“They created hearts and put them on the tapestry, so their loved ones that are missing or murdered are not forgotten,” Wrigley said. “All these hearts are created so their loved ones who have been missing or murdered are not forgotten.”
Marie Speakman of Yellowknife has worked with the victim services program for 20 years and now also works with the MMIWG2S+ program and was instrumental in creating the colourful tapestry that represents the love for the lives lost and missing.
She said it was a collective effort from community members everywhere and from as far away as Japan.
“Everybody in all walks of life came to take part in it. A lot of love went into it and a lot of tears from thinking of the ones that have passed on and also the ones who have gone missing,” Speakman said. “So, we all worked together and it was really, really good.”
The tapestry is indeed a work of art that represents the vibrant culture of the NWT.
Colourful beaded and decorated hearts fill the centre of the tapestry, while the edges are decorated with sections of Metis sash, hide, representing Dene and sealskin representing Inuit.
“At the top of the tapestry, we call it Naka – in our (Dene) language it is the Northern Lights and I think the whole beauty of it is representing the love that was put into it, and a lot of tears, and it was a really good time to spend together.”
But while May 5 is the recognized day of acknowledgement, Wrigley said the Association is trying to make a difference on a daily basis to raise awareness about the importance of healthy communities, families and of having adequate mental health support.
“We have a counsellor for a men’s group supporting men and each other. Every Wednesdays they gather in the evening to support. It’s been going for almost a year,” she said of the group that they named the Northern Brotherhood of Men.
And just last week, a support group for women was also started, she said.
“So, the wives can support the husbands to have a healthy family to create a strong community. The counsellors are working with husbands and wives for their community,” she said of the group that does sewing and participating in sharing circles.
“And we are trying to create a group of the survivors of MMI – a support group,” Wrigley said.
Amanda Baton, the Yellowknives Dene First Nation justice coordinator and counsellor, is coordinating the Honouring our MMIWG2S+ walk and event in Yellowknife on May 5th.
I feel like it is to come together and grieve together as a community so we can remember and honour those who were taken and those who remain missing,” Baton said.
“And it is for the families of the survivors whose lives have been changed forever by violence.
Many people have been impacted.”
It takes a community
Baton said the entire community is involved in the event.
“I have Dene Nation, Native Women’s, Tree of Peace, Foster Family, RCMP, Municipal Enforcement, the City of Yellowknife. This is a whole community engagement and I am so grateful and honoured to be taking the lead on this event.”
“This is something I am very passionate about, based on my experiences growing up here in Yellowknife,” Baton said. “We are going out there and being more aware of what I would say is a cultural genocide.”
“But the more that we speak about it and bring these issues forward, I pray that after this event, that the entire community takes these kinds of issues seriously – like the impacts of addiction and the impacts of residential school and the impacts of colonization in general.”
The May 5th event begins at 10:45 a.m. at Somba K’e Park in Yellowknife and ends in N’dilo at 5 p.m. with a drum dance to honour the MMIWG2S+.