Indigenous leaders in Winnipeg call for action at Silence is Violence march

About three dozen people met at the Manitoba Legislature on Monday to call for action on violence against Indigenous women, girls, two-spirit and gender diverse people.

“There’s a sense of urgency, given what is happening here in Winnipeg with the number of homicides we’ve had recently,” said organizer Hilda Anderson-Pyrz.

At least four Indigenous women have been killed in Winnipeg so far in 2022. Three of them died in the month of May alone, including her own niece, Tessa Perry, 31. 

“We need to see action,” said Anderson-Pyrz, a member of the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation who chairs the anti-violence advocacy group National Family and Survivors Circle.

People taking part in the Silence is Violence walk called for more action to prevent gender-based violence, after three Indigenous women were killed in Winnipeg in May. (Emily Brass/CBC)

“We need to feel that impact on the ground where Indigenous women and girls, two-spirited and gender diverse people are living a safe and secure life, not having to worry they’re going to continue to be targets.”

She says the Silence is Violence Walk was another reminder that people across Canada are still waiting for governments to implement the 231 calls to justice that stemmed from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Women and Girls.

“It doesn’t only include federal, provincial, territorial, municipal, it also includes Indigenous governments,” she said. “They all have a responsibility to act and respond.”

The smell of burning sage filled the air as people prayed in front of a tipi on the legislative grounds, then walked together to the Forks.

Carolyn Moar (L) and Tammy Leask both work with women impacted by violence and said a shortage of shelter spots in Winnipeg makes it even harder for women and children to get help. (Emily Brass/CBC)

Among them was Carolyn Moar, a Knowledge Keeper who was once a victim of domestic violence herself. She now teaches the Red Road to Healing program for women impacted by violence at home, in the workplace or in the community. 

“It’s learning the difference between an unhealthy and healthy relationship,” she said. “It’s giving them the training so they know we’re powerful women, and that we can walk with that power. 

“I’m hoping they don’t allow anyone to disrespect them like that again.”

Also taking part in the walk was Tammy Leask, a program director from the West Central Women’s Centre. The group just launched a five-week session of the Red Road to Healing program.

She said a big problem in addressing gender-based violence in Winnipeg is a lack of space in shelters. Leask said women and children are being sent as far away as Dauphin, Thompson and Portage la Prairie.

“It’s such a harsh reality,” said Leask with a sigh. “They’re expecting to go somewhere safe, and then telling them that shelters are full is awful.”

Anderson-Pyrz said the city also needs more spiritually-oriented safe spaces for Indigenous women and gender-diverse people. She says that would be particularly helpful for those who’ve recently come to Winnipeg from remote areas and may be more vulnerable.

“When you’re connected to communities, those are major protective factors,” said Anderson-Pyrz.

“Your sense of belonging, knowing your culture, knowing your language and knowing where you come from, those are all anchors in your well-being.”

Anderson-Pyrz pointed to Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata as an example of a centre that helps Indigenous people new to Winnipeg, offering services for healing, wellness and reclaiming culture. She said providing community-based support like that across Manitoba and Canada would go a long way toward violence prevention and reconciliation.

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