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First Nations leaders call for action in wake of brutal assault

A brutal and disturbing assault on a First Nations woman in Winnipeg last week is prompting calls from First Nations leaders for immediate action.

Police said on Wednesday a woman was restrained starting in the afternoon of Dec. 9, physically assaulted until she lost consciousness and then abandoned in a dumpster on Dec. 10.

Someone found her in the dumpster while she was screaming for help and she was taken to hospital.

First Nations leaders in the province say something needs to change.

“With the last couple of incidents, when it came to our women, it just seemed that they were so disposable, that there’s nothing that can really be done,” said Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Cathy Merrick. “That bothers me as the grand chief, so we need to change the narrative of how our women are being treated.”

Police said the incident involved five people – two have been arrested and investigators are still searching for three others.

“We know that these circumstances and these situations are happening far too often and that are very troubling to the community,” said Supt. Bonnie Emerson with Winnipeg Police Service on Wednesday.

First Nations leaders from the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, and Southern Chiefs Organization said in the past 12 months in Winnipeg, there have been 25 female victims of homicide and more than 400 reports of missing women, girls and two-spirited individuals.

Merrick and MKO Grand Chief Garrison Settee said they want to meet with the province and the federal government and hear what immediate steps they will take to end the violence.

“There is a crisis here and all government must heed the call to our leadership that we need to sit down because we cannot stand by and watch our women die on the streets any longer,” said Settee.

Manitoba’s Justice Minister Matt Wiebe said he would support a meeting with Indigenous leadership and the federal government. He said progress is being made in Manitoba, such as a newly formed cabinet committee to prioritize work for MMIWG.

“This is a crisis, I think, across our province that, as I said, our government is taking very seriously,” said Wiebe. “So that’s why developing this committee of cabinet will be a good first step to ensure that we can collaborate across government and collaborate across departments.”

Still, Wiebe said there is more work that needs to be done. But First Nations leaders said if work doesn’t happen quickly, the results could be deadly.

“Without them, our people will continue to die,” said Settee.

A spokesperson for the federal office of the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations said the violence against Indigenous women, girls and two-spirited people is an urgent and ongoing crisis that needs to stop.

“This federal government is taking real action to put an end to this crisis. This includes work towards establishing a Red Dress Alert system, so when an Indigenous person goes missing, they can be found,” the spokesperson said.

“We envision a future where Indigenous women, girls, two-spirit, and gender-diverse people can live freely, openly, safely, and without fear. There is a lot of work ahead, including work with all partners including Indigenous peoples, provinces, and territories, and the federal government is a committed partner on this path.”

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