As I write this (on February 27), I’ve just finished catching up with the news of Inuk woman Loretta Saunders’ body having been found on the edge of a New Brunswick highway. The death of this young woman pushes the number of missing or murdered Indigenous women in Canada – researched to be over 800 – one life higher.
The “over 800” figure comes from the recently reported on PhD thesis by Maryanne Pearce. As part of her research, Pearce compiled a list of women who have gone missing or been confirmed murdered in Canada over the past several decades. 824 Indigenous women were named on the list. The number from Manitoba? 111.
You can download the complete research An Awkward Silence: Missing and Murdered Vulnerable Women and the Canadian Justice System, including Pearce’s list, here. (At over 1100 pages, downloading may take a while.)
Pearce’s research updates the findings of the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) who, through their Sisters in Spirit initiative, had also created an extensive list of missing and murdered Indigenous women. NWAC’s research, which is current to 2010, is a valuable tool for learning more about this issue and the particular effects it has on different provinces. The Manitoba Fact Sheet that was produced provides a clear snapshot of the demographic specifics of the women who were living in Manitoba.
There are many reasons cited for why the number of Indigenous women who are affected by violence of this kind is so disproportionately high. They range from the realities associated with (often) having a lower socio-economic status – such as inadequate housing options, lower levels of formal education, a lack of community-based resources and so on – to the broader characterization of systemic racism. One theme is common, though, no matter how a person may analyze the situation: in many ways these women and their stories were “missing” from so-called mainstream society long before they were taken from their families and friends.
As a librarian, I am always encouraging people to read, learn and tell new stories – or uncover ones that may have been overlooked. The best place to go for once-hidden stories is directly to the source and so we are happy to be screening the documentary Finding Dawn on March 29. Directed by acclaimed Métis filmmaker Christine Welsh, this documentary puts a human face to many of the Indigenous women who make up the greater story described above.We are screening Finding Dawn to complement a powerful installation project that will be in Winnipeg at the same time. Walking With Our Sisters is “a commemorative art installation for the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women of Canada and the USA.” Initiated by Métis artist Christi Belcourt, the installation features over 1700 pairs of moccasin “vamps” beaded and sent in from across Canada, the United States and even from overseas. Belcourt had put out an initial call for 600 pairs (the estimated number, at the time, of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada) but received an overwhelming response. You can view these intricate and thoughtful tributes – and learn about the many “missing” stories they share – at the Urban Shaman Gallery from March 21 to April 12.