Métis Nation – Saskatchewan keeping memories of missing and murdered women alive on International Women’s Day

MN-S Western Region 2 representatives Sherry McLennan (left) and Cody Demerais (right) present Chief Jon Bergen with a mural created by local Métis artist Jennifer Brown in memory of the missing and murdered women of Saskatchewan. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

On International Women’s Day, the Métis Nation – Saskatchewan (MN-S) wanted to make sure one particular group of women get attention they never asked for, but desperately deserve.

MN-S representatives were at the Prince Albert police station on Monday to present a mural created in memory of all the Métis and First Nations women who’ve gone missing in Saskatchewan.

Created by local Métis artist Jennifer Brown, the mural features paintings of women who have no faces, as a representation of how the missing women could be anyone.

“We just want to make sure that our Métis sisters and our Indigenous sisters are not forgotten,” said MN-S Western Region 2 executive director Sherry McLennan, who made the presentation along with MN-S Western Region 2 youth representative Cody Demerais. “This mural is to remember those women, and to think about trying to protect our women.

“(We’re) always trying to keep them safe and free from domestic violence. There’s a lot of human trafficking going on, so keeping our young girls safe (is a priority).”

However, Monday’s presentation wasn’t only about keeping the names and faces of those missing women from slipping into anonymity. McLennan said it’s also important to honour the people who try to protect young women, and who search for them when they go missing. For her, that list starts with Prince Albert police.

“The police play a big role in trying to keep them safe, and we have a lot of women in the police who are working for that cause,” she explained. “On International Women’s Day, we thought it would be a good day to honour (them).”

Chief Jon Bergen was on hand to accept the mural on behalf of the police service. He said they’re grateful to receive such a significant piece of art with an important meaning behind it.

“That’s just an honour,” he said following the meeting. “It’s an honour to be able to display that here.”

McLennan said the number of missing women really hit home in 2015 when Prince Albert Métis women Danielle Nyland went missing. Nyland was reported missing after attending a party in Prince Albert’s East Flat. Her body was found outside the City more than a week later.

McLennan said it’s important to show that women like Nyland are still loved and missed.

“I’m looking at my niece right now and just thinking, ‘what if something like that ever happened to her?’” McLennan said. “You would go to the ends of the earth to try and find a way to find her, but there’s only so much you can do.”

MN-S Western Region 2 also held an International Women’s Day march on Monday to recognize women for the role they play in health communities.

McLennan said family is the focal point of traditional Métis culture, so they wanted to focus on their roles as mothers, grandmothers and sisters, in addition to being doctors, lawyers or counselors.

“We just want people to be aware and say thank you to the women who keep our families together and who raise their kids, show them how to be responsible people, and show them that we all have feelings and that we love each other,” she explained. “All we can do as mothers is keeping teaching and keep being a role model for future generations.”

McLennan said her mother and grandmother were a huge inspiration for her growing up, and that’s influenced how she teachers her children. She said she was very lucky to have them in her life, and thinks it’s up to the current generation continue to lead the way for their daughters and grand-daughters.

While she is seeing signs of progress, McLennan says a lack of respect is a large part of the problem society faces today in trying to keep men and women safe. That can manifest itself in something as simple as a break and enter, or as serious as sexual assault. Although that’s cause for concern, McLennan remains hopeful communities like Prince Albert can turn things around.

“I just don’t see respect as much as I did when I was a younger person. We had to respect our elders. I feel that with technology, and with the different kinds of parenting skills, respect has gone down quite a bit in this world, and hopefully, with the right teaching, we can get that (back) again. I would be honoured and so happy if we can start living with respect again, and with the teaching of our elders.”