Dozens of indigenous activists gathered at the Legislative Building in Winnipeg in the weeks leading up to the announcement on the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. I made portraits of some of the people I met and asked them to talk about why they came.

Calvin Clarke - Urban Warrior Alliance

"We've got here Monday evening, and we set up camp, and we lit the sacred fire, and we've been here ever since. We work as a collective when it comes to activism. Our group is the Urban Warrior Alliance. We were sick of waiting for the government to fulfill the promise that they made two years ago - to have a full inquiry nation wide with the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women. And they weren't holding their word which we knew was gonna happen. So we decided, let's do something for the families because they need answers and they need closure."

"The root causes, a lot of it has to do with the policing of our people, CFS (Child and Family Services) involvement. It's a hard life that some people have to live with. It's discrimination. Let's just call it what it is. They see another Indian dead or floating in the water and they don't give it as much attention as they would with anyone else. The system is broken, it ends up with murdered and missing women, children. People who go through the CFS system end up alone, they fall through the cracks. Like Tina Fontaine, they could have had her in custody four times, they had an arrest on site warrant for her. The police were in contact with her three times and once with CFS. And they let her go. She ended up dead that weekend."

"It makes me angry that government is treating these families like this, that have suffered so much loss. It's a slap in our face to our people. Too bad it has to come to these things [the sit in] to draw attention to it. A lot of us have said enough, we're standing up. I just want my daughter to grow up in peace, to be treated like a regular citizen of this country like everyone else is treated. I don't want her to grow up feeling shame that she's native. I don't want her to be scared to walk to the store at night. To have the fear of getting attacked and raped and killed. I want her to grow up peacefully. That's why we're having this fight right now, so our kids won't have to."


June 31, 2016.

Wabi

"I'm here with my dad about murdered and missing women. We have to help save the women. 


It's sad and it makes me cry."

June 31, 2016.

Jennifer Spence-Clarke - Urban Warrior Alliance

"I'm an Anishinaabe Kwe and I come from Manitoba. I also have Metis ancestry on my father's side. I grew up in the inner city, varying between North End, West End, downtown, central areas. There was a lot of indigenous people, however I didn't grow up in my culture. I grew up in the church. I knew I was indigenous in some way but back then that was something that you didn't want to admit to people. It's a lot different now. We're proud to call ourselves indigenous."

"I think that started when people realized that the residential schools were a huge mistake, that our elders had stories to tell. And not just the stories of the abuse that took place within the walls of those schools, but the stories of before they went to the schools. Their lives were vastly different."

"Now my baby will grow up in this culture. She'll grow up around the ceremonies, around sun dance, and she'll go to powwows. She'll walk with us as we show her what the culture is. It's taken me a long time to figure out what that means, but I think my awakening started when I was 17 or 18, and I'm almost 40 now. Some of us don't get there for a long time. My mom was almost 40 when she started to come back to our culture."

"I have three sons, four daughters and one granddaughter. The issue of Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women makes me feel like I need to be more educated as a human being, an adult, a mother and as an indigenous female. It's easy to say knowledge is power, but I think it's true in so many ways. We can arm our kids with that knowledge. How to stay safe, how to walk in healthy ways. It's easy to want a quick solution to all of this but it takes these really small steps that we make with each of our kids. If I can impart any of my wisdom on my children and my grandchildren, then maybe when they grow up they can find the ways to help their community and walk that path with their children. Maybe that helps in just a small way but we have to start somewhere."

"In terms of what our government can do, unfortunately it all comes down to money. And it's a sad thing. We don't have access to funding to do the things that will help our community. A lot of these issues are created by poverty."

"We need healthy living. Healthy cultural living. Maybe we need to go back to our ceremonies. A lot of people tell me they don't practice that kind of stuff, it's just not something they do. And many of them are people who grew up with parents and grandparents who went to residential schools. It's really hard to crack those shells."

"We've talked about putting culture camps in communities so kids can go on the land and learn. It would keep them busy. There's an epidemic of suicide. A lot of kids are losing hope. And we try to fight that suicide spirit ceremonially to."

"There's a lot that can be done. It's just how do you tap into it and figure out what each community needs if you don't first as critical questions about where kids go wrong when they're small? What contributes to gang life? What leads to exploitation of women and girls? Some girls as young as 9 are out on the streets being sexually exploited by people. By adults...I don't even know. Where did they get lost along the way? I really hope the inquiry will start looking at these questions."

July 31, 2016.

Stanley Joseph Cote - Urban Warrior Alliance

"We're fathers, we're sons, we're nephews, and all those people that are missing, that's a part of us too. That's why we're here. Every single one of us. Because we're all worried about the next generation and that eh. I have children, and that's why I'm worried. Why I want to make a difference out here. I don't want my babies to be missing or murdered. And I want to try and do something that's going to make a change. I don't want people to think we're just here because we want to be a part of something. I'm a father and I worry about my kids future."

June 31, 2016.

Sue Caribou - Aunt of Tanya Nepinak, murdered in 2011

"I'm here for the the vigil today for my niece Tanya Nipinak and Nancy Dumas, my caregiver who went missing in 1972. I got seven family who were murdered. Nobody charged. My parents got murdered, both my parents, while I was in residential school. So i've been going through this all my life. I'm 51. So I wrote in front of the Leg, hoping to get some answers, 'Inquiry's done, but our women and girls are still going missing every day. We need answers. Signed by Sue Caribou. My Niece is no trash to be left at the Brady Landfill.'

"We have a lot of broken promises, all the time. Can't you give us answers? Can you not give up on our people? When you don't have closure, it gets harder every year. This has brought a lot of addictions to a lot of our people, because their voices are not being heard. And me I'm not going to give up, I'm not gonna turn to addiction and give up on my loved ones. You know, I believe strongly in my heart that one day, that the ones that passed away, my older siblings, maybe they're with them now. That's what keeps me going. That now they're up there. And maybe one day they will help me get some answers for our loves ones. Like my guardian angels."

Frank Longhawke - Urban Warrior Alliance

"I'm just here to support the women, the children, the campers. I'm just here to help out. They've adopted me as their family, it's important that we help them out. I've heard and seen people in the news, who were murdered, so when the families asked for help I came down. I've been here since day one."

June 31, 2016.

Lita Blacksmith - Mother of Lorna Blacksmith, murdered in 2012

"I came here today because I needed somewhere to pray for my daughter. I didn't know about it earlier because I don't really connect with people since I lost my daughter. I don't know...every time I come it overwhelms me. It's like I'm living that moment again. When I lost her, when they found her. It all kicks in at once and it hurts a lot (sobs). So I don't come to these things much. But when I do come and we all support each other, it's different. But I don't always get support because I don't come outside much. I don't ask for help, I just deal with it my own way."

"My daughter went missing one night after I dropped her off at her friends place. She hadn't contacted me and I got worried because it wasn't like her to be like that. She wasn't answering me and I kept on trying. She just turned 18 on October 10th. She went missing that January."

"My daughter was outgoing, she lived to the fullest. She was always on the go. She always had all these plans for us, what to do, where to go. I loved every plan that she made. She was very funny, she made me laugh. Sometimes I felt she was looking after me instead of me looking after her. It was funny how we were with each other. But I was always worried about her in the city. I know what it was like - people getting jumped and beaten up for no reason. "

"She had issues and she was dealing with it in her own way. I respected her needs and her privacy. I didn't want to get into too much with her, I didn't want to make her run off. I wanted to keep close to her. That's why I never dealt with what she was going through with her emotions. So it's very hard...It's hard. I lost her."

"I wish the cops would treat us equally. I went to them and they pushed me away a couple times. They said she's just a teenager and she'll call you soon. I got mad and I was telling my people about it, my family. 'Nobody's helping me,' I said to them, so my chief got involved and started making these missing pictures. And they started talking to the chief of police about what was wrong. It was almost a month and a half before we went there, the chief and me. I did whatever I could do, handed out pictures to anybody, all around the area, wherever I drove. I never slept. I just drove around looking for her"

"On June 21, the investigators showed up at my door. And that's when they told me that they found her and she wasn't alive."



Sandy Banman - Urban Warrior Alliance

"My son went missing. Five years ago, on May 21st, 2011. So there was a massive search, because my son was not the kind to disappear. I have sons who are the kind to disappear, and you just know they're out and about somewhere. But Carl was the one to keep in touch. Every day phone call, every day text, every day computer, every day a status. He was always very close to all of his family members. They found him three weeks later. His body was on a patch of sand. They had to identify him by his tattoo."

"It's unclear what happened. Homicide was investigating, but I still don't know the exact cause of death. You can just say I had a complete mental nervous breakdown. They found him in a creek. They searched for miles but they couldn't find him, maybe 5 miles. They said okay, we're done here, but there was one fireman who said let's just go that extra mile so we can bring closure to this family. Just one more mile. And then they found him. And that's what I'm asking everyone else to do. Just go one more mile."

"The thing is when you work with other young girls, you know the parents of people who's children have gone missing, when you go to their funerals and wakes, you think you would understand as a mother what they are going through, right? You think you would know. But when it happens to you there is absolutely nothing that can prepare you for the kind of pain. It just hits you...I hurt in places I didn't even know was places. In my body, in my mind and in my heart. I didn't even know there was such places (sobs)."

"Our family, the whole family structure fell apart. All my other children, they just went crazy. Doing all kinds of things to try and cope. Medicate. Getting into dangerous things. And I just thought I was going to lose another child. It was a horrible fear. I couldn't even be near a telephone. I would just be shaking all the time. Even today, when a phone rings I'll feel lighting bolts go through my hands. I'm thinking this is gonna be a call saying someone else I know has left. It's still there. It never goes away."

"You can never judge a mother's grief. Never. Whatever comes her way, it's going to be something they she can get entrenched in. That's how I felt. Whoever come along and swayed me in a certain way that's where I would have went. I was in complete breakdown. I was so sad I would have taken any kind of support from anyone or anything. It could have been some evil...I was very lucky to have a wonderful man come into my life about two months after my son died. Who helped guide me through it. He helped me grieve, he helped me mourn."


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