On May 5, the Golden Métis Nation Columbia River hosted a ceremony outside their office to commemorate missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls who have been lost over the decades.
For many, there may be general awareness about this issue but a lack of understanding behind the impact of these unsolved cases.
That’s why May 5 has been commemorated as a day to remember these fallen sisters, to stand in solidarity and bring greater understanding to a topic that is often neglected.
“Throughout the decades there have been many missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada and North America and it continues into today,” said Caren Nagao, president of the Golden’s Métis Society.
“As for today, we recognize and honour their lives as being meaningful and that their absence is missed greatly and their contribution to their community and nation is recognized.”
Back in 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau established the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
The purpose of the inquiry was to look into and facilitate hearings to explore the truth of the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in Canada from those survivors who have experienced this first hand.
The final report, released on June 3, 2019, concluded there was a high level of violence directed at First Nations women and girls, caused by state actions and inactions.
“The high level of violence is rooted in colonialism and colonial ideologies,” according Marion Buller, the inquiry’s chief commissioner, in her final report.
“There is ongoing, deliberate race, identity and gender-based genocide.”
The issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls isn’t a new one.
In Canada, it’s estimated that anywhere from 4,000 to 5,000 women and girls have been missing or murdered since 1980.
This is best known by the infamous ‘Highway of Tears,’ a stretch of Highway 16 that extends 725 kilometres across B.C.’s northwest between Prince George and Prince Rupert. The highway has been the location of many murders and disappearances dating back to the 1970s.
While the highway may be hundreds of kilometres from Golden, the ripple effect of the tragedies that have taken place there can be felt here and across the country.
Many have personal ties to women affected by the systemic violence against Indigenous women, while others can personally identify with some of the victims.
“We have in our office a photo of Tina Fontaine (a 13- year-old Indigenous girl who went missing and was found in pieces in the Red River in August 2014), we have little girls like that here in Golden and it’s just so heartbreaking to think that this could happen to them,” said Métis member Davene Dunn.
“I look at the red dress as it just signifies that these poor women are seen as throw away and society hasn’t stood up to look for them. No one seems to care.”
While there was limited attendance due to COVID-19, it was important to the society to host some sort of memorial.
Hanging red dresses outside of their office, which symbolizes the missing and murdered Indigenous women, the society hopes to bring awareness in Golden to the plight of Indigenous women across Canada.
The empty dresses signify the lost lives of sisters who have fallen.
“With COVID-19 we thought we couldn’t do anything but then we realized we can at least hang our dresses out and raise awareness,” said Dunn.
“The prayers that we offer up in the smudge and each dress was smudged in memory of all those who had their lives cut short and are still not found, just to think of the families and the ache they must feel to never know what happened to them.”
It’s difficult to estimate just how many people have been affected by the thousands of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
It wasn’t until 2010 that the National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains was created in response to the Highway of Tears.
The lack of data until 2010 makes it difficult to compare statistics compared to other populations.
“I have friends in the area of the Highway of Tears and they’ll say things like, ‘You don’t now what it’s like to go for a walk or go shopping and be worried for your safety and not know if you’re going to get home and the safety of your children,’” said Dunn.
“We’re trying to help everybody realize that we count, our sisters count.”
Prejudice, stereotypes and inaccurate beliefs and attitudes about Indigenous women and girls continue to negatively influence police investigations, according to the Métis Society.
The Métis society hopes that by raising awareness to this issue, they can play, at the very least, a small part in helping break down those stereotypes and ensure a safer Canada for Indigenous women across the country.