Content warning: The statement below discusses the issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and Two-Spirit Peoples, including mention of two ongoing 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, Indigenous women, girls, Two-Spirit peoples and their allies take to the streets to remember, mourn, honour, and protest against the thousands of lives that have murdered or have gone missing in our country.
This movement that began in 1992 in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, home of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and Sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations, 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-Sprit Peoples (MMIWG2S) is just as prevalent and devastating as ever.
Our city 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, 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, a closed, no-fee group counselling program intended for First Nations, Métis and Inuit adults. I am so grateful to PhD candidate Gwendolyn Villebrun for dreaming up, creating and facilitating this unique and essential program, and to Kookum 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 to strengthen relationships with Indigenous communities, in hopes 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 you will all join me in finding other ways to remember and honour Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and Two-Sprit Peoples. 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