By Chevi Rabbit, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
(ANNews) – May 5 is Red Dress Day, the National Day for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-spirited people. Ermineskin Women’s Shelter created a walk for the community to honour and acknowledge all the families impacted by this ongoing national epidemic.
At the event Maskwacis RCMP announced some significant actions that will be implemented at their detachment from the Truth and Reconciliation report.
“It’s important to show up to support community members; some are still trying to find their family members,” said Chief Vernon Saddleback of Samson Cree Nation.
“We have to look out for each other. We have to be aware… it’s one of those things [many] non-Indigenous people don’t understand; they don’t have the problems we have and they don’t understand [what it’s like to be] preyed upon.”
Although Indigenous women make up about 4 percent of the female Canadian population, they are significantly overrepresented among missing and murdered women.
Sandra Ermineskin is the Director of Ermineskin Women’s Shelter (EWS) who organized the walk and rally with her staff at EWS. This year, her dedicated team created a number of important awareness initiatives that included bringing guest speakers on Hawk Radio to talk about issues impacting the community such as family violence, violent families and domestic abuse.
Her family was also impacted by the MMIWG2 epidemic. “I’m walking for my aunt,” said Ermineskin. “Thirty years ago, my aunt was murdered in Calgary, and the police closed the case.”
She said that her family vowed to never give up hope for justice and to continue to make efforts to make the case known in hopes of finding who murdered her aunt.
“We just heard from my [other] aunt in Calgary that they are reopening the case,” said Ermineskin.
She further explained that many like her are tired of merely talking about raising awareness and the need for changes for vulnerable women. They want action and are calling for real and meaningful measures to protect vulnerable women and gender-diverse people by police services in Canada.
“What actions are being taken? What’s the follow-through? I want to hear about the action. I was glad to listen to the RCMP today talk about what actions they are taking,” said Ermineskin, referring to the words of Maskwacis Police Chief Leanne MacMillan
MacMillan was a guest speaker at the Red Dress Day event, and she talked about some of the TRC actions that are being implemented at the Maskwacis RCMP Detachment.
“I want to make sure that the people here realize what we as the police are trying to accomplish and to support this community,” said MacMillan.
“At Maskwacis RCMP, we delved into the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls inquiry and pulled from the calls to the police and the calls to justice and what we could do within our community to support those calls.”
She said the calls for justice included talks about best practices, exploring restorative justice, and providing community-specific Indigenous options for sentencing.
“Over the past few weeks, we’ve met with a Restorative Justice Committee in Maskwacis to talk about Indigenous people being incarcerated at extremely high numbers for smaller administrative offenses, which really could be dealt with culturally within the community,” said MacMillan.
She outlined the second piece of the TRC considered specific to calls to police services which include establishing engagement and partnerships with Indigenous people, including women, Elders, and gender diverse people.
“This year in our strategic plan, we’re looking at domestic violence and family violence. A recent study that I reviewed said that 42% of Indigenous women were more likely to have been physically or sexually assaulted by an adult during their childhood [compared to] 27% of non-Indigenous women,” noted MacMillan.
She pledged to the community of Maskwacis, to deliver presentations to elementary schools on being a good friend and being respectful and to make presentations to high schools about healthy youth relationships and dating.
She added, “We’ve committed to going to our men’s advisory meetings to speak on education about the police’s role and the police response to domestic violence investigations.”
She also said the second layer of her commitment is educating Maskwacis police officers – “which starts with a trauma-informed approach and learning what that means for us through an Indigenous perspective.”
Maskwacis RCMP will be learning a trauma-informed approach with an Indigenous perspective, she added.
“It’s different in every community, and here we have [a history of] residential schools, and colonization, and our officers need to understand what that is,” noted Macmillian.
“RCMP members will take online trauma training and family violence training with the solicitor general.” And her officers will learn about Elder abuse and attend a training program put on by the Six Nations delivered by the Canadian Centre for Homicide Prevention.
She said she plans to hire more Indigenous and Gender Diverse RCMP officers and that is something she committed to when she became Maskwacis Police Chief.
Ermineskin Women’s Shelter organized the Red Dress Day event. The shelter has been providing a safe place for women and their families for over 20 years. EWS is solely owned by Ermineskin Cree Nation but serves the four nations of Maskwacis which includes Montana Cree, Samson Cree, Ermineskin Cree and Louis Bull Tribe.
In a previous interview with ANNews, Sandra Ermineskin stated that the Women’s shelter is underfunded and understaffed and needs support to service the growing community demand. She also stated that one of her goals is to expand the existing facility and enhance their existing cultural programming.