Actions and Commitments

Call to Action # 41: Justice (25-42)

Manitoba counting on Indigenous matriarchs to help guide MMIWG2S strategy

March 21, 2024

18-member team will work to prevent ‘any more MMIWG2S’ from happening: Nahanni Fontaine

People sit in chairs and surround a long table, while paper plates and cups rest on top of the table.
The first meeting of the Manitoba government’s Matriarch Circle was held in the families minister’s office on Thursday. The group will inform the province’s development of a strategy around missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. (Ian Froese/CBC)

CBC Indigenous: Manitoba’s families minister is bringing some trusted advisers with her to the provincial legislature.

Nahanni Fontaine has enlisted a 18-member team of Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit individuals to offer their expertise and advice.

The Matriarch Circle, which met for the first time Thursday, will guide Fontaine’s department on the formation of Manitoba’s first strategy around missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people. Their input will be welcomed, the minister announced.

“This space was never meant for Indigenous women,” Fontaine told reporters outside the legislative chamber.

“This is an opportunity to claim space and reclaim space, but also in the midst of an ongoing genocide against Indigenous women, girls and two-spirited, it’s a way to, symbolically in many ways, say that enough is enough,” she added. 

“We’re taking up our space. We’re taking up our rightful place.”

A woman in a pink suit and turtleneck is seated at a chair, in front of a quilt and a flag of Manitoba.
Nahanni Fontaine, Manitoba’s minister of families, said the Matriarch Circle will elevate the voices and perspectives of Indigenous women, girls and two-spirited individuals.  (Trevor Brine/CBC)

The unpaid group, which includes actor and former Churchill MP Tina Keeper and knowledge keeper Karen Swain, will meet at least twice a year.

Members come from a range of backgrounds, including people of Afro-Indigenous, Anishinaabe, Anisininew, Cree, Dakota, Dene, Inuit and Métis descent. They’re knowledge keepers, authors, artists, actors, athletes and storytellers, the province said in a news release. 

Preventing future tragedies 

Issues like the ongoing call for a landfill search for the remains of two First Nations women won’t be on their agenda, Fontaine said, but rather a focus on stopping future tragedies from happening. 

“Ultimately at the end of the day, our government wants to prevent any more MMIWG2S,” the minister said.

“There’s also an opportunity and a fundamental need for us to also celebrate Indigenous women, to also highlight and lift up all of the amazing work that Indigenous women are doing.”

Cora Morgan, the government’s special adviser on Indigenous women’s issues, said it makes sense for the government to centre Indigenous perspectives in this work.

“Historically and part of our traditional ways of being, it was women who had a final say in in changes that were to be made,” she said. 

“Now that we have this new government, we have a lot of Indigenous people who are representing, it was appropriate that we had them guiding the way for strategies on MMIWG and the protection of women and girls.”

Ian Froese · CBC News