Small demonstration makes a lot of noise for Red Dress Day

Mary Ann Morin participates in a Red Dress Day demonstration at the corner of 15th Street and Sixth Avenue East on Tuesday. Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald

There may not have been many of them, but a small group of Métis women gathered at the corner of Sixth Ave. East and 15th Street Tuesday over the lunch hour to bring awareness to Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls.

May 5 is the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG), also known as Red Dress Day. People are encouraged to wear read, remember MMIWG and do what they can to raise awareness for victims and take action to put an end to what a national inquiry called a race-based genocide.

While only four women — and one officer from the Prince Albert Police Service — participated, they picked a high-visibility intersection to spread their message.

“We got lots of honks today,” said Sherry McLennan, the director of Métis Nation- Saskatchewan Western Region 2.

“Our women are going missing — being a woman leader, we have to be aware that these days that come up have to be supported.”

McLennan said she was happy to be able to honour the day. She said much more work has to be done with women and men to reduce domestic violence and build respectful relationships and self-esteem.

“I want people to know that I will support many women projects and family projects, even for men,” she said.

“I think it’s important to get out there and show support and honour our women and girls who went missing; and, if we can, do some prevention to stop that and stop domestic violence.”

While, for now, COVID-19 prevention and relief remains the focus of the Métis Nation, McLennan said Métis Central is designing men’s and women’s programs to prevent domestic violence and on building healthy relationships.

McLennan said she knows some families that have been impacted by MMIWG. 

She spoke of Danielle Nyland. 

Nyland went missing from the Shellbrook/Holbein/Canwood area on June 8, 2015. Her remains were found 11 days later. The RCMP declared her death as suspicious.

McLennan said she became close to Nyland’s mom and sister.

Mary Ann Morin also participated in Tuesday’s demonstration. She held a sign remembering Ashley Morin, who disappeared in July 2018 and who police believe was the victim of a homicide, and Ramona Daniels (Morin).

A Twitter post put up by the Prince Albert Police Service referenced the round dance held last year to honour families of MMIWG, as well as a photo of Happy Charles, who was last seen near PACI in Prince Albert on April 3, 2017.

“Today is National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls,” they wrote. “(We continue) to work with local organizations and the wider community to foster positive relationships and ensure we are meeting the needs of the people we serve.”

Last year the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls released its 1,200-page main report and 43-page legal analysis.

After reviewing submissions and testimony from 2,380 survivors, family members, experts and elders, Chief Commissioner Marion Buller and the commission labelled violence against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA individuals a race-based genocide.

“This genocide has been empowered by colonial structures, evidenced notably by the Indian Act, the Sixties Scoop, residential schools and breaches of human and Inuit, Métis and First Nations rights, leading directly to the current increased rates of violence, death and suicide in Indigenous populations,” the final report read.

It also issued 231 calls for justice targeting media, law enforcement, education, the courts and others. The commission wrote that changing the structures and systems that led to so many murders, assaults and disappearances requires deliberate action from all levels of government.

Much work on the file still has to be done.

This year’s Red Dress Day was the first since that damning report came out. Yet the president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada says she’s disappointed with the government response.

“I’m sad and disappointed in the government because I haven’t seen much out in regards to what sections of the inquiry has come out,” Lorraine Whitman told APTN News. “I truly feel at that time there should have been dollars set aside so that we could start working on some of the 231 calls to justice.”

No press release or statement from the Prime Minister’s Office was posted Tuesday. There wasn’t even an acknowledgement of Red Dress Day or MMIWG on his Twitter feed.

Locally, though, McLennan hopes her small group’s efforts made at least a little bit of a difference.

“As long as there’s a few people and they make a lot of noise, we made a lot of people aware of what today was just because of the few signs we had,” McLennan said.

“They were honking and waving, some were yelling. At least we made it known. Even when they see this in the paper they’ll say, ‘that’s what they were doing. That’s what was on May 5.’”