Content warning: The statement below discusses the issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and Two-Spirit Peoples (MMIWG2S), including mention of two ongoing criminal cases. Take care while reading, and if you need support, please reach out: MMIWG Support Line: 1.844.413.6649; SACE Support & Information Line: 780.423.4121.
Every year on February 14, the day most associated with love, Indigenous women, girls, Two-Spirit people, and their allies take to the streets to remember, mourn, and honour the thousands of loved ones that have been murdered or have gone missing in our country, and to protest against this injustice.
This movement to honour MMIWG2S in this way began in 1992 in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, home of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and Sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. It has now spread to cities across Turtle Island. The event in Edmonton was started by a woman named Danielle Boudreau, as a grassroots event that brings the community together. Though decades have passed since the inaugural Memorial March, the issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and Two-Spirit Peoples is just as prevalent and devastating as ever.
Our city and the broader Treaty 6 Territory/ Métis Region 4 is not an exception: we are currently in the middle of a second trial against Bradley Barton, a man accused of brutally killing an Indigenous woman named Cindy Gladue in an Edmonton hotel in 2011. In another case, Kenneth Courtorielle was arrested and charged with second-degree murder just last week in relation to the disappearance of Billie Wynell Johnson. I send love and strength to both Cindy’s and Billie’s families and loved ones as they grieve these unspeakable losses, and pray for justice in both cases.
At SACE, we know that sexual assault has been used as a deliberate tool to oppress Indigenous Peoples both historically and today, and that this is closely tied to MMIWG2S. We also know that as a sexual assault centre, we have an obligation to do more to prevent, and respond to this issue. As a first step, we launched Wîwîp’son Healing from Sexual Trauma Circle for Indigenous Women in 2020. This no-fee, closed group counselling program, more accurately called a healing circle, is intended for First Nations, Métis and Inuit (FNMI) adults. I am so grateful to PhD candidate Gwendolyn Villebrun for dreaming up, creating and facilitating this unique and essential program, and to Kohkom Ruth Cardinal de Ubiera for her teachings, guidance, and endless support to our agency and clients.
I am also proud to announce that we have recently hired an Indigenous Community Counsellor, whose focus will be to strengthen relationships with Indigenous communities. Our hope is that this new member of our team will further the work of making our services safer and more accessible to FNMI folks. I’m so excited for the potential of this work, and where it may take us.
Though COVID-19 has prevented many people from marching today, I hope that you will all join me in finding other ways to remember and honour Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and Two-Spirit People. If you have the means, support Indigenous-serving organizations in our city, such as Native Counselling Services of Alberta, Aboriginal Counseling Services of Alberta, and the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women. Please also join me in reading The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, and putting its Calls to Justice into action.
We all have a role to play in combating violence against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people.
Mary Jane James
Chief Executive Officer, Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton (SACE)