Southern chiefs unveil MMIWG2S+ family support team
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A dedicated team to support First Nations families whose loved ones have been slain or gone missing has been established in southern Manitoba.
The Southern Chiefs’ Organization has organized a support team for member First Nations that can provide trauma-informed and culturally appropriate support for relatives of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, two-spirit and gender-diverse people.
The team is being created in partnership with the federal and provincial governments, SCO announced Wednesday (also International Women’s Day).
Its work will include helping families navigate police services and the legal system, organizing gatherings and advocating for implementation of the 231 calls to justice from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. The inquiry’s final report was issued in 2019.
“One of my foundational mandates is to ensure that SCO is able to provide culturally responsive, trauma-informed, and appropriate supports in all of our programs and services,” stated Grand Chief Jerry Daniels in a news release. “I look forward to working with our new MMIWG2S+ support team, as they work to end this national tragedy.”
At least three of four women Winnipeg police believe to be victims of an alleged serial killer in 2022 were members of southern First Nations: Rebecca Contois, Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran.
A search of a Winnipeg-area landfill for the remains of Myran and Harris could begin as early as April, The Canadian Press has reported.
Partial remains of Contois were found in the Brady Road landfill in June 2022.
Investigators have not yet been able to identify a fourth potential victim (nor recover any remains) — a woman Indigenous elders have temporarily named Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe (Buffalo Woman).
A similar support unit exists for Thompson and northern Manitoba through the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak. The Manitoba Métis Federation has a support worker as part of its Infinity Women Secretariat.
Bernadette Smith, NDP MLA for Point Douglas and a longtime advocate for families of missing and murdered women, said she supports this work and wants to see widespread provincial action.
Smith’s sister, Claudette Osborne, went missing in 2008.
Teams such as the SCO program mean families don’t always have to travel to Winnipeg and can get support closer to home, the MLA said. Smith said access has been difficult, because there’s been a “void” in some areas.
“I think it just speaks to the need for it but also the lack of resources that are put into place from our provincial government at that level.”
Smith is calling for a provincial strategy to support MMIWG2S+ families, including prevention and implementing the national inquiry’s calls for justice.
A spokesperson for the department of Indigenous Reconciliation and Northern Relations, and the Status of Women, stated the province is involved in an implementation plan, called the Manitoba MMIWG2S+ Partnership Implementation Plan, being led by Indigenous knowledge keepers to bring the calls for justice into action. The province also pointed to funding investments meant to combat sexual exploitation, chronic homelessness and addiction.
“The issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls is an ongoing national tragedy, particularly in Manitoba, and our government is committed to working with Indigenous leadership, organizations, communities, families, and survivors to address this important issue,” the spokesperson stated.
Katie May is a general-assignment reporter for the Free Press.
Updated on Wednesday, March 8, 2023 5:20 PM CST: Adds comment from spokesperson