Remember their names: Red Dress Day rallies in Manitoba call for justice for MMIWG

Diane Bousquet thinks of every missing and murdered Indigenous woman and girl in Canada as she ties red ribbons on bridges and fences in Winnipeg.

Bousquet is part of a group that’s walking from a site at the Brady Road landfill called Camp Morgan, named after Morgan Harris, who was killed last year, to The Forks on Friday in recognition of Red Dress Day, a national day of awareness and action for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

“Every last one of them, I’ve written every name … on every ribbon that I have that we’re going to be placing on this walk. I don’t just write those names, I read their stories. I hear where they’re from. I know if they’re missing. I know if they’re murdered,” she told CBC News outside the landfill Friday morning.

“It’s not one person, it’s all of them and it’s Canada-wide.”

Bousquay has six friends who have been murdered or are missing, and after hearing Morgan Harris’s daughter Cambria issue a number of powerful calls to action, she felt compelled to act.

Three women in red skirts stand in a grassy flatland area. One on the left is carrying a hand drum.
Diane Bousquet, centre, helped organize a walk from Camp Morgan outside of the Brady Road landfill, to The Forks on Red Dress Day. She felt compelled to do something because six of her friends are on the list of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. (Prabhjot Singh Lotey/CBC)

“Somebody’s got to stand up and say something and do something. Our federal government needs to step in and not only implement the 231 calls for justice [from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls], they need to place Manitoba under a state of emergency when it comes to our missing and murdered,” Bousquay said.

Across the city, hundreds gathered at Portage Avenue and Main Street for a round dance and march to The Forks to mark Red Dress Day.

Red dresses and ribbons are seen blowing in the wind outside of the Brady Road landfill.
Red dresses and ribbons blow in the wind outside the Brady Road landfill on Red Dress Day. (Prabhjot Singh Lotey/CBC)

Jennifer Ducharme was there in honour of her friend, Cherisse Houle from Ebb and Flow First Nation, who was found dead in the rural municipality of Rosser in 2009. Her brother was later shot to death.

Ducharme held a sign and wore red on Friday “to represent all of our sisters, not only her, everyone else,” she said.

A woman in a red hoodie holds a red sign that says "Justice for Cherise Houle." In the background there is a large group of people wearing red.
Jennifer Ducharme holds a sign that says ‘Justice for Cherise Houle,’ her friend who was found dead in 2009, at the Red Dress Day round dance at Portage Avenue and Main Street on Friday. (CBC)

At a different march, dozens gathered on Sioux Valley Dakota Nation to remember loved ones who are lost.

Penny Antoine held memories close of her late sister and daughter during the walk.

Her daughter died last year, while her sister died nearly 20 years ago.

A person in a ribbon skirt holds a sign that says, "No more missing murdered Indigenous women and men." They're in focus while two people's legs are seen out of focus.
Nation members attend a walk honouring Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Sioux Valley Dakota Nation on Friday, May 5, 2023. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

Antoine initially didn’t want to take part in the walk, but two other sisters and her daughter convinced her it would be healing.

“In the beginning, I was sad, cried. But throughout the walk, I was just thinking like, I can do this. I can do this. Even though my body may have said no, I made it,” she said.

“For me this really means a lot. I’ve done one many years ago, but it didn’t really affect me as hard as it does today. It’s part of healing.”

A woman with traditional Inuit face tattoos wearing a black top holds a red beaded dress medallion in front of a wooden door and a white stucco wall.
Nikki Komaksiutiksak, executive director of the Winnipeg-based Inuit resource centre Tunngasugit, holds a beaded red dress. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

For Nikki Komaksiutiksak, the executive director of Tunngasugit, an Inuit resource centre based in Winnipeg, missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls is a deeply personal subject.

Her 17-year-old sister was killed 22 years ago, and Komaksiutikask believes her death wasn’t thoroughly investigated.

Three adults in red stand in the frame as well as a young child. The adult on the left holds a red sign that says, "Say their names." The person in the middle has a red hand print over her mouth. The person on the right holds a hand drum.
Hundreds took part in a round dance and rally at Portage Avenue and Main Street and then a gathering at The Forks in honour of Red Dress Day. (Prabhjot Singh Lotey/CBC)

Missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and gender diverse people are a direct result of colonization, she said.

“You came here and stole our land from us. You came here and thought that we needed to live a more Canadian life. What does that even mean? All it has looked like for us is tragedy after tragedy, genocide after genocide,” Komaksiutikask said in an interview on Thursday.

“We need the federal government to work with our Indigenous leaders in a way where there’s compassion, where there is love and support at the foundation of who we are as human beings.”

Komaksiutiksak recently stood with Winnipeg Centre MP Leah Gazan to call for a national state of emergency over missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and gender diverse people.

A red dress on a hanger blows in the wind.
Advocates say the federal government must put in place the 231 calls to justice that were issued four years ago as part of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry. (Prabhjot Singh Lotey/CBC)

Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Cathy Merrick said the tragedies are a signal that the federal government must address the recommendations laid out in the final report of the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls inquiry, which was released four years ago next month.

“We need to ensure that those calls to actions get implemented in a timely manner, because they haven’t been implemented,” she said in a Thursday interview.

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs also hopes to create a database of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. They’re waiting for the federal government’s approval before they get to work, she said.

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