Dressed in red, Stz’uminus community members honor MMIWG2S

A crowd of people walk slowly past a cutout of a red dress, pinned to a telephone pole. They gather in the pouring rain, unified by their intention to raise awareness about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two Spirit (MMIWG2S), their kin who never made it home.

Starting at Deer Point Road, about 60 members of the Stz’uminus community walked through their community Thursday (May 5) which marked National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls across what is colonially known as Canada. Together, they hope to end violence against Indigenous Women, Girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA + People.

According to a report by the Assembly of First NationsIndigenous women make up 16 per cent of all female homicide victims, and 11 per cent of missing women, even though Indigenous men make up just 4.3 per cent of the population of Canada.

As well, they state, Indigenous women and girls are five times more likely to experience violence than any other population in Canada.

A Stz'uminus Elder is dressed in a red jacket and white ball cap.  His right arm carries a short, carved staff and package of tobacco.  His left arm is stretched out in front of him as tobacco falls from his left hand, giving a prayer to MMIWG2S.  There are three other people walking alongside him in the background, two of them wearing red clothing and the third wearing a regalia dress.
Daniel Elliot shares with IndigiNews that he held up an offering of tobacco as a plea (prayer) to be heard for MMIWG2S at Stz’uminus on May 5. Photo by Philip McLachlan.

According to the MMIWG2SLGBTQQIA + National Action Planmany things including colonial systems, and ongoing homophobia and transphobia, heteronormativity, and heteropatriarchy have infiltrated most Indigenous cultures and communities, leaving Two-Spirit and Indigequeer People increasingly vulnerable to multiple forms of violence.

What’s more, an Ontario study of gender-diverse and Two-Spirit Indigenous people, quoted in the National Inquiry Into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girlsfound that 73 per cent had experienced some form of violence due to transphobia, and 43 per cent experienced physical and / or sexual violence.

At Deer Point Road, an Elder offered a blessing to begin the event, followed by Chief Roxanne Harris, and then the group continued their journey down the rainy road, along the water’s edge.

Low tide on the beach of Kulleet Bay, the beach is captured in the lower half of the image and the ocean water stretches out behind it, filling the top half.  There is a pole with a seagull sitting atop it, and a blue heron flies over the water, in the center of the image.  In the background is the forest and beach on the other side of the bay.
A blue heron flies above the water of Kulleet Bay, in Stz’uminus on May 5. Photo by Philip McLachlan.

Behind the crowd of people dressed in red was the ocean, Kulleet Bay. Shrouded in mist, the surface of the water was broken by relentless raindrops. Standing on the beach, watching, were herons. Overhead, seagulls and eagles soared.

What started as a quiet and sombre walk ended with loud singing, drumming and shouts of support. The sound of the ocean next to the roadway was eventually drowned out by the sound of drums and song. The voices of Youth singing washed over the group, and were echoed by cheers. They ventured south along Kulleet Bay Road, ending at the Big House.

Two people walk away from the camera, each in bright red shirts, walking with a larger crowd of people gathered to honor and raise awareness for MMIWG2S.  On the left, one person holds up their drum stick, a thing stick with a rounded, soft end for drumming, with red markings on it.
The group walking through Stz’uminus draws close to Big House. Photo by Philip McLachlan.

Some sang, some grieved openly, others held each other, and some shared good memories and laughed. Some simply listened as they walked.

Inside the Big House, lunch was served, where the Elders and children ate first. While people feasted together, members of the community stood up to speak, thanking everyone for coming out to support them in honoring the women and girls in their community who never came home.

Many chose to sing and uplift the group, but everyone fell silent when an Elder chose to share a personal song dedicated to missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

Community members spoke to the crowd about the need for this kind of support to last more than a day; but rather every day of the year. Others spoke of their hope that one day things will change, and the need to gather because of these tragedies would diminish.

A bright red flag for MMIWG2S that reads “You are not forgotten” and “Reclaiming power and place” is held up between and Indigenous woman dressed in a camo jacket, with a flash of a red t-shirt underneath, hair down and wearing glasses ;  and an Indigenous man wearing a red sweater with a black vest on top, and a black bandana tied around his head and hair.  The sky is overcast above them as they stand in front of a longhouse.
Community members hold up a flag that reads “You are not forgotten” and “Reclaiming power and place” and “#MMIWG” while they face the crowd as they arrive in front of the Big House on May 5. Photo by Philip McLachlan.

As people started to leave, Chief Harris stepped aside and spoke about the healing time that their community is currently in.

“It was really heartwarming to see everyone gather today from far and wide, not just from Stz’uminus but from other nations and territories. All races were here today. We open our doors here in Stz’uminus, and we’re all-inclusive. ”

“And what it means to us: we’re on a healing journey, it helps us if we can do […] this healing path together, and move together as one. ”

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated from a previous version to correct the beginning location of the walk.

Cultural Editor’s Note: Philip McLachlan is an accomplice storyteller with IndigiNews and practices trauma-informed storytelling. The image in this story of Daniel Elliot offering tobacco in prayer was shared with Daniel’s consent.

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