Canada and the United States are once again calling for action to end violence against Indigenous women and girls, a persistent problem that has devastated communities across North America for decades.
Friday marks Missing of Murdered Indigenous Persons Awareness Day in the US, while it is National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG), also known as Red Dress Day, in Canada.
“On Missing or Murdered Indigenous Persons Awareness Day, we remember the many lives destroyed or lost, and commit to working with Indigenous communities to seek justice, protect families and help them heal,” said the US president. Joe Biden in a statement.
“Indian Country is in the grip of an epidemic of missing or murdered Indigenous people, whose cases far too often go unresolved,” he said, describing the issue as a “crisis”.
“We must act quickly and use the resources necessary to stop the violence and reverse the legacy of inequality and neglect that often gives rise to it.”
Indigenous peoples have been sounding the alarm for years about the disproportionate number of women, girls and two-spirits who have been murdered or disappeared in the US and Canada. Two-spirit is a term used by some indigenous peoples to describe their gender and spiritual identity.
Proponents have also denounced the systematic inaction on the part of government and law enforcement agencies in addressing the issue.
In Canada, the federal police reported in 2014 that nearly 1,200 Indigenous women had been killed or missing in Canada between 1980 and 2012 — but community members said the true number was probably much higher.
A national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls concluded in 2019 that the violence “constitutes a race-based genocide of Indigenous peoples” that primarily targets women, girls, and members of the LGBTQ2S+ community.
On Friday, a group of Canadian ministers expressed their support for all victims of the violence.
“We are committed to working with Indigenous families, survivors, leaders and partners, as well as provinces and territories, to make transformational changes that will end this national crisis,” they said in a joint statement.
But ahead of the memorial day, Indigenous leaders said Canada had not done enough to address the decades-long crisis.
Canadian lawmakers unanimously passed a motion in the House of Commons on Tuesday urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government to declare a national emergency. The motion also called for Ottawa to establish a “Red Dress Alert” system to notify the public when an Indigenous woman, girl or two-spirited person goes missing.
The moment when the House of Commons voted unanimously to call on the federal government to speak out #MMIWG2S conduct a Canada-wide emergency and implement a Red Dress Alert system.
This government must accelerate the delivery of resources and funding to stop this violence. #cdnpoli pic.twitter.com/b6lfZhc8bj
— Leah ProudLakota (she/her) (@LeahGazan) May 3, 2023
“This is a crisis situation. People are being killed and missing every day,” said Canadian MP Leah Gazan, who spearheaded the motion, at a news conference Tuesday.
“We are precious, we are valuable, we are loved and we are not garbage,” Gazan said.
Hilda Anderson-Pyrz, a member of the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation and president of the National Family and Survivors Circle, added that “every day is a fight for survival” for Indigenous women, girls and people of two minds in Canada.
“We are exhausted from fighting systemic and structural racism that is killing us,” Anderson-Pyrz said at the press conference.
“Canada has a responsibility to support immediate, sustainable and impactful action. In 2019, Prime Minister Trudeau stated that the government accepts that the killings and disappearances of Indigenous women and girls across Canada in recent decades amount to an act of genocide.
“It is now four years later and the crisis continues without the urgency, commitment and prioritization that is needed.”