Joan Winning keeps a copy of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls final report on her bookshelf, to remind her of the promises the government made to the families who shared their stories.
“I want to remember the families that went through the same thing we did. We didn’t talk in vain … we want them to do something,” said Joan Winning, the aunt of 16-year-old Nicole Daniels, who was found dead in a snowbank in April 2009.
“It’s a form of respect, it’s a form of honouring their own words.”
The final report of the national inquiry was released three years ago, on June 3, 2019, with 231 calls to justice in it. Advocates and families say those calls have gone unanswered.
The night Daniels died, she left the house with a middle-aged man. An autopsy showed she had a high level of alcohol in her system and died from hypothermia. Police ruled her death not suspicious.
Winning told the inquiry in 2016 that her niece’s clothes were undone and her body was covered in scrapes and bruises, leading her to believe her niece was murdered.
“It felt good that we were able to tell our story [to the inquiry] … We felt like we were heard,” Winning said.
“A few months later, we had a meeting with a detective from Winnipeg police and he totally dismissed everything that we told him.”
Every time Winning shares her niece’s story, she can’t help but imagine what she would have become.
“This girl lost her life … lost a future, a future that could have been filled with children.… Who knows what kind of a career she would have had? But she was robbed of it,” she said.
In an effort to call attention to the inquiry’s recommendations that remain unfinished, community advocates set up the Rainbow Butterfly warming hut at The Forks that has now moved to Kildonan Park, alongside posters detailing the 231 calls to justice contained in the inquiry’s report.
The warming hut — modelled on a red dress, a symbol of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls — is meant to combat misconceptions people may have about those who had been killed or gone missing, co-creator Angela Lavallee said.
“I use the word combat because sometimes it feels like we’re constantly in a fight to show and highlight and share exactly what’s going on with us and what’s happening to us out there,” she said.
“It’s an every day thing and … it didn’t end when the national inquiry ended.”
The display was organized in partnership with Wahbung Abinoojiiag, a non-profit organization that helps Indigenous families and youth experiencing violence.
Indigenous women, girls and gender-diverse folk continue to be killed and go missing at a disproportionate rate, executive director Angie Hutchinson said.
In Winnipeg, three Indigenous women were found dead within a two-week span last month — Rebecca Contois on May 16, Doris Trout on May 19 and Tessa Perry on May 28.
“It was identified in the national inquiry report that the conditions of violence that are created for Indigenous women and girls and gender-diverse folks is genocide, and there needs to be action to address that. We are continuing to lose community members and it’s unacceptable.”
Action from government, police
That action needs to come from highest levels of government, Winning said.
She was at the Ottawa ceremony where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was presented with Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, including the 231 calls to justice.
“The young girl that presented [Trudeau] with those volumes, [she] made him promise that he would follow through on our recommendations. Here we are three years later, and nothing has happened,” she said.
“There’s people missing every single day, people that are losing their lives every single day. It seems like there’s vigils every other day, and they’re not doing anything about it.”
Winning wants to see more shelters for Indigenous women in need, not just in the downtown core. Based on her interactions with police, she also wants better cultural sensitivity training offered to Winnipeg police.
Speaking to reporters after the Winnipeg Police Board meeting on Friday, Winnipeg police Chief Danny Smyth said the police service’s work with Indigenous communities continues, but progress has been made on implementing some of the calls to justice.
He highlighted the Winnipeg Police Service bringing on Supt. Bonnie Emerson as their superintendent of community engagement, and hiring Angie Tuesday as their liaison with the families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
“It breaks my heart that we have that many women murdered in such a short period of time, but our investigators and our community engagement people are doing everything they can to manage that,” Smyth said.
In a statement, the provincial government said it has taken action to address gender-based violence, such as Manitoba’s Gender-Based Violence Committee of Cabinet.
It also pointed to the introduction of a bill similar to what is commonly known as Clare’s Law, which would allow people to find out whether their partner has a history or abuse or violence, even if some information might normally be deemed personal and beyond publicly available court records.
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