On May 5, We Remember and Honour Our “Stolen Sisters"
A message from Dr. Nel Wieman, FNHA Acting Chief Medical Officer; & Dr. Kelsey Louie, FNHA Acting Deputy Chief Medical Officer
This message contains sensitive content and could be triggering. For crisis supports here in BC please contact the KUU-US Crisis Line at 1-800-588-8717, or visit the First Nations Mental Health and Wellness Support page for additional support services.
On National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, also known as Red Dress Day, we commemorate the thousands of sisters who have been stolen from our families and communities over the years, leaving heartbroken loved ones behind.
This day is part of our collective and ongoing healing journey as Indigenous individuals, communities, and Nations across Turtle Island. It is important that we talk about and put faces and names to these valuable members of our families and communities. They were precious human beings, not statistics, and we want to honour and remember them by raising awareness about what happened to them. One way we can do this is by wearing red dresses, red shirts, or pins or earrings with red dresses, as a small way to create conversations.
Indigenous women and girls are sacred, and have historically held places of honour, respect, and leadership within our families and communities, serving as matriarchs, keepers and caretakers of life, knowledge, culture and language, protectors of land/water/resources, traditional healers, life-givers, nurturers, food/medicine harvesters, activists, and cycle-breakers.
Although racism and colonization deliberately disrupted our communities, roles, and systems, Indigenous people – against the odds – continue to resist, rebuild, reclaim or maintain our rightful roles. With the intergenerational resilience passed down from our ancestors, we are fighting our way out of the myriad devastating and far-reaching impacts of racism and colonization. These include the false, harmful, racist stereotypes that enable the devaluation and dehumanization of Indigenous women and girls in the minds of predators.
Indigenous women are 12 times more likely to be murdered or missing than any other woman in Canada. In British Columbia (BC), so many Indigenous women have been murdered or gone missing that in 2010 the province struck a Missing Women Commission of Inquiry. Its 2012 report, Forsaken, found that “approximately 33 per cent of BC's murdered or missing women were Indigenous, despite making up approximately three per cent of the province's total population." This inquiry led to the creation of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, which in its 2019 report, Reclaiming Power and Place, found that “persistent and deliberate human and Indigenous rights violations and abuses are the root cause behind Canada's staggering rates of violence against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people."
Nevertheless, many Indigenous women are not only surviving but thriving in spite of these violations and abuses, which include racism, discrimination, marginalization in the form of poverty, insecure housing or homelessness, incarceration, and barriers to education, employment, health care, and cultural support – and the resulting trauma and intergenerational trauma.
The FNHA's 2021 report on the health and wellness of First Nations women and girls in BC, Sacred and Strong: Upholding Our Matriarchal Roles, highlights and celebrates the incredible strength and resilience of First Nations women and girls. Dedicated to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, and to their families and communities, the report is grounded in First Nations perspectives of wellness, and contains stories and teachings about the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health and well-being of First Nations women at every phase of life.
The Sacred and Strong report is a reminder that wellness needs to be at the forefront of our lives so we can remain strong and resilient in the face of adversities. It also serves as a reminder of the urgent need for collective action to eliminate prevailing systemic barriers to enable all First Nations women and girls to be healthy and self-determining. It encourages First Nations women and girls to know that their voice matters, and that they can rise together in strength and unity and claim their space in this world. It calls on Indigenous men to protect, respect, support and honour Indigenous women. And it calls on all leaders to take action with respect to keeping Indigenous women safe and addressing systemic racism.
For more information about Canada's Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG), click on these links:
National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls: https://www.mmiwg-ffada.ca/final-report/
Films and documentaries: https://www.kairoscanada.org/missing-murdered-indigenous-women-girls/films
Adaawk (A-Dow-ick) is a powerful and moving documentary that gives a glimpse into the lives of loved ones who are missing or murdered along the Highway of Tears.
The REDress Project: https://www.jaimeblackartist.com/exhibitions/
Mental health and wellness supports are available here:
Government of Canada Support Line This website deals with topics which may negatively impact the reader due to its subject matter. If you are affected by the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQI+ people and need immediate emotional assistance, call 1-844-413-6649. You can also access long-term health support services such as mental health counselling, community-based emotional support and cultural services and some travel costs to see Elders and traditional healers. Family members seeking information about their missing or murdered loved one can access Family Information Liaison Units.