A local First Nations organization is working to create more allyship in the fight for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG).
Mandi Olson of the Binesiwag Centre for Wellness in Couchiching delivered a presentation to town council during Monday night's meeting where she spoke about how indigenous females are disproportionately effected by violence and crime. They make up only four percent of Canada's female population, but account for 10 percent of all missing women, according to the Department of Justice.
“Regrettably there are between 1,200 to 4,000 unsolved cases of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in Canada,” noted Olson, who said the issue has effected her on a personal level.
“This includes our two-spirited, lesbian, gay, transgender, transexual, queer, and questioning [individuals] as well as many boys and men,” she added.
“Current evidence also shows that this number is estimated—there are potentially thousands of additional family members who have been lost. Their stories are forever untold.”
Shortly after the final report of the National Inquiry into MMIWG was released in June of 2019, the Binesiwag Centre for Wellness was contracted under Grand Council Treaty #3 to carry forward the MMWIG portfolio for its Nation.
They are working to implement the report's 231 calls to justice.
“These are those changes that need to be made by government, institutions, social agencies, industries, and really by all Canadians,” Olson explained.
“Through our work at Binesiwag and under Grand Coucil Treaty #3, our project aims to inspire the public to join us in becoming an ally, creating opportunities for healing, and beginning to empower a new path to reconciliation,” she added.
“We take this report very seriously and we do not want it to be forgotten.”
Olson said part of her work under Grand Council Treaty #3 is to reach out to municipalities, leaders, town officials, and the general public to get involved in implementing the MMIWG calls to justice.
During her presentation to council on Monday, she asked the town for three recommendations to be considered for the betterment of the community.
The first is providing a letter of support for the proposed “Ogimaakwe Ka-ki-no-Igenwin,” which is a women's wellness lodge and anti-human trafficking safe house.
Olson said human trafficking is a huge issue locally and interconnected with homelessness and other social problems.
The second recommendation asks for a commitment on participation in an action strategy focused on making the community safer and stronger, while providing education on MMIWG and violence against women and girls and the LGBTQ2S community.
The last recommendation is for reconciliation, by taking a proactive approach in the greater community through implementing small advertising, including radio and media campaigns around becoming an ally to MMIWG.
Olson said that commitments, “no matter how large or small, create permanent and long lasting change.”
“Becoming an ally means educating and disempowering the very systems that continue to oppress marginalized people and ignore the expertise of indigenous women, girls, and LGBTQ2S,” she explained.
“Establishing relationships in a meaningful and significant way will address the root cause of this violence. We are all in this together, we're all change makers for this generation and future generations to come.”
Following Olson's presentation, the town didn't take any action on the recommendations she brought forth. As with any request made to the town, it will go to committees of council, who will then provide a recommendation for a future meeting.
Olson said her organization is still waiting for the provincial strategy on human trafficking to be released. When that happens, they'll engage an action strategy committee for Treaty #3. At this time, she said, representation from Fort Frances council would help in moving forward with the MMIWG recommendations.
Representation from Dryden and Kenora councils will be requested as well, once the committee is formed.
“Really, it's about campaigning and working together to start talking about these things that we don't want to talk about,” Olson said.
“The realization . . . that we're losing our young women, our young girls and our young boys and adults as well, in our community and it's going without recognition.”
Mayor Caul said she'd be happy to join the action strategy committee once it's formed and encourages other members of council to follow suit.
“I will certainly be there to participate and try to help out with this situation because I know, just from listening to social workers and other people who are working around town as you are, the problem is out there,” she explained.
“We all need to take ownership in trying to help solve those problems and to try to help with people who are being victimized.”
Mayor Caul stressed that human trafficking and missing women or girls is an issue that's often overlooked in the local community.
“This kind of thing is happening right under our noses," she charged. "We need to get our heads out of the sand when it comes to stuff like this.”
“It is in Fort Frances, it's a concern, it's getting worse and it's something that everyone needs to be aware of to keep their own families, their own friends, and our communities safe.”