Actions and Commitments

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

‘We deserve justice’: Red Dress Day events in downtown Winnipeg honour MMIWG2S+

May 5, 2024

New $15M endowment fund will help support MMIWG2S+ families, province announced on Red Dress Day

A large crowd of people.
The march began at The Forks’ Oodena Circle and ended at the Manitoba Legislature. (Gary Solilak/CBC )

CBC News: Hundreds marched from downtown Winnipeg Sunday night to mark Red Dress Day, the nationally recognized day to raise awareness for missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people. 

The fourth annual MMIWG2S+ Walk for Justice started at The Forks’ Oodena Circle and ended at the Manitoba Legislature. Posters of missing and murdered Indigenous people were placed around the circle and carried by members of the community during the march.

“Our people are not statistics, each and every one of those have families that are out there hurting and what better to bring them and show these families that their loved ones matter,” said Krista Fox before the march. “That the monsters that took them, they were not theirs to take in the beginning, that’s the bottom line.” 

Fox came to the march from Saskatchewan and was wearing a shirt made to honour Ashley Morin, who went missing from North Battleford on July 10, 2018. Saskatchewan RCMP said a year after her disappearance they believed she was the victim of a homicide. 

“These people are taking our sisters,” said Fox. “They’re not yours to take.” 

Gayle Pruden said those who were at The Forks are all just one big community and needed to support each other and walk together as equals. 

“I usually tell people, come and support these events before it hits home,” said Pruden. “This needs to come to an end with all our murdered and missing women, it needs to come to a stop. And if we all help one another — we’re all on Mother Earth — this shouldn’t be happening.”

People marching in a big group.
Hundreds marched through downtown Winnipeg Sunday night to mark Red Dress Day. (Gavin Axelrod/CBC)

Louise Menow, from Norway House Cree Nation, has been part of the walks all four years and honoured her childhood friend, Hillary Angel Wilson, who was 18 years old when her body was found near a highway outside Winnipeg in 2009.

Police labelled her death a homicide, but no one has been arrested.

“I grew up with Hillary, and when I heard she passed, it was devastating,” Menow said.

Her death left Menow feeling scared to move to Winnipeg, and even after he’s been living here for more than 10 years, she said she still feeling unsafe.

“Wherever I go, I am always going to be a target just by being an Indigenous woman,” she said.

She’ll also be walking for her niece Grace, who was killed by a drunk driver last year.

“She deserved justice, we deserve justice,” she said.

A woman in a red shirt.
Louise Menow said Sunday’s event was important to her because she will honour loved ones she has lost. Menow also brought her children to The Forks and wants her daughter to use her voice as she grows up. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Events at The Forks started earlier Sunday afternoon, when people affected by MMIWG2S+ gathered to share their stories. Drummers, singers and dancers were also there. 

Many had the losses of a loved one on their mind, while reflecting on changes that still need to be made in order to keep people safe. Some also reflected on the announcement of the long-awaited Red Dress Alert system, a bid to prevent deaths and increase safe reunions with loved ones.  

It will be funded through money set aside in this year’s federal and provincial budgets.

“I think it’s wonderful, it’s time,” said Julie Deane at an event at The Forks Sunday afternoon where people affected by MMIWG2S+ shared their stories and drummers and dancers also gathered. “Maybe it’ll stop, maybe the madness and the killing will stop.”

A woman shows her skirt.
Myrna Abraham shows a skirt with photos of her sister Sharon.  (Gary Solilak/CBC )

Others are remaining optimistic about the alert system, but also would like to see the province and country be more proactive about protecting Indigenous women. 

“We have our most vulnerable women that are going missing left and right because there’s no services out there for them,” said Melissa Robinson, a cousin of Morgan Harris, who is believed to be the victim of an alleged serial killer. “So we need to do better, not only here in Manitoba, but as a country.” 

Former Long Plain First Nation Chief Kyra Wilson said the Red Dress Alert system is a resource that’s been needed for quite some time, but also echoed Robinson’s thoughts. 

“That’s something that you hear time and time again with many different systems that are negatively affecting the lives of Indigenous people is that we need to be talking about prevention and talking about what do we do to be proactive instead of being reactive.” 

NDP announced endowment fund to support MMIWG2S+ families

The provincial government announced a new $15 million endowment fund to support MMIWG2S+ families to mark Red Dress Day. 

Funds generated from the endowment will be used to offer grants that MMIWG2S+ families can apply for. The initial investment is expected to generate up to $750,000 a year, the province said in a news release.

The endowment will be managed by The Winnipeg Foundation.

The first intake for the program is expected to launch in 2025, and the province plans to work with families, the Matriarch Circle and community partners to determine grant eligibility, the news release says.

Myrna Abraham from Sagkeeng First Nation was on hand at the announcement. 

Her older sister Sharon, was reported missing in January 2004 and later that year, her DNA was found on notorious serial killer Robert Pickton’s farm. The remains of 33 women were found on his farm, including Abraham. 

Abraham said she might be able to benefit from the endowment fund along with families who experience financial challenges when searching for a missing family member. 

“It’ll help with families that are now looking for their families,” she said. “It’s every day, you look at Facebook, you see families missing or male or female or two spirited and it’s really sad that there’s a target on our back.” 

“It really helps with financial relief which is basically the most stress when you’re searching or when you have to … leave your home community to look for your family members and it’s a relief.”   

A woman in an orange sweater.
Harmony Williams was invited to perform at the University of Winnipeg. (Gary Solilak/CBC )

The University of Winnipeg marked Red Dress Day with its 19th annual graduation pow wow.

Fancy shawl dancer Harmony Williams, the biological daughter of Jana Williams, who was murdered in 2021, was invited to perform at the event.

“When I go on stage today, I’ll be thinking of my mom,” she told CBC News ahead of the performance.

With files from Arturo Chang, Ilrick Duhamel and Gavin Axelrod