STONEY NAKODA – Hosting a community gathering dedicated to Canada’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, Stoney Nakoda welcomed guests to attend their round dance Saturday (Oct. 19) evening.
The Eagle's Nest Round Dance in the Rockies Honouring MMIWG at the Chief Goodstoney Rodeo Centre offered a great opportunity to learn about and celebrate Indigenous heritage and culture, Eagle’s Nest Stoney Family Shelter community prevention worker Shaunna Pierro-Hunter said.
The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls crisis lies close to Pierro-Hunter’s heart, as her grandmother Eva Pierro was murdered.
It is a frustrating experience because her grandmother's murder was largely ignored, Pierro-Hunter said, adding that law enforcement did little to look into it, or investigate what happened.
“It kind of hurts honestly, it’s very emotional,” Pierro-Hunter said. “Especially for my dad. He can’t really talk about it because he’s still hurt by it.”
Her story serves as a reminder there are family members who often continue to seek out answers to find out what happened to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
It is an important issue in Stoney Nakoda, she added, and they are continuing to collect the names of women in the area who have gone missing, or have been murdered. She estimated at least five or six families are tied to the crisis going back to the 1960s.
The conversation is changing in regards to the epidemic that has haunted the Indigenous community, and while she appreciates people are talking about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in the wake of Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiring into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, Pierro-Hunter said, the conversation seems to ebb and flow overall.
“It’s in waves right now, I feel like it’s not really being heard – When people hear MMIWG [Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls] they don’t really know what I’m talking about.”
It has been amazing to see people becoming increasingly more engaged with the conversation, she said, especially because as people learn more about the crisis, they are more likely to better understand the impact it has had in Indigenous communities.
The round dance was an important event to host, Stoney Nakoda elder Rod Hunter said, because neighbouring communities were invited to participate and help bring an issue that has long been ignored into the light.
Elders have been aware of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls crisis for years, he said.
“They have the wisdom and they have the experience,” Rod said. “They’ve known from way back when that there has always been missing women.”
While awareness is growing and several talking points have been presented in regards to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, Rod said, he would like to see more action taken.
“The only time it’s mentioned is when we Indigenous people say it. The only time non-Indigenous people mention it is when they are campaigning,” Rod said.
Shelters like Eagle's Nest and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls community groups have played a pivotol role in carrying the torch and ensuring their voices are not lost, he added.
“It’s spread because of them,” Rod said. “Because of the actual sisters of these missing women, there are a lot of them, thousands.”
There are believed to be between 2,500 and 4,000 Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls across Canada, he said.
Reclaiming Power and Place characterized the story of the crisis as a "genocide” in the country based on the amount of race-based violence, especially in regards to women, Indigenous populations have experienced.
The report states that it is not possible to conclude a final number of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
“Thousands of women’s deaths or disappearances have likely gone unrecorded over the decades, and many families likely did not feel ready or safe to share with the National Inquiry before our timelines required us to close registration,” the report reads. “One of the most telling pieces of information, however, is the number of people who shared about either their own experiences or their loved ones’ publicly for the first time. Without a doubt, there are many more.”
Elders carry this knowledge and speaking personally Rod said it weighs heavily in the community. However, he added, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls are one of many issues that need to be addressed in Indigenous communities.
“We can’t just work on one thing.”
The round dance served as an opportunity to “bridge the gap” between Indigenous and non-Indigenous community members in the Bow Valley, organizer Anders Hunter said.
“We invited many non-First Nations to come out and experience what a round dance is,” Anders said. “We’re trying to bring awareness to our non-First Nation relatives – so they can understand what we as First Nations experience.”
Anders wore a red shirt honouring Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, while others others at the round dance could be spotted wearing red dress pins.
He explained that in Nakoda culture it is a powerful colour signifying blood, or bravery.
“We want to wear red to acknowledge our ancestors and their bravery and we want to encourage the spirits of those MMIWG, that the red is for them to be strong and find their way to the light.”
Anders said he hopes more Canadians engage with events like the round dance and conferences to spread the word on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls to inspire others to take action.
“We have cousins, relatives, families across the country that have been missing for a long time and we haven’t found them,” Anders said.
Canmore resident Mallory Kosterski attended the round dance with her husband Sean and young son to experience Stoney Nakoda culture first-hand.
Her family was motivated to learn more about Indigenous knowledge, she said, adding that it is important to acknowledge Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
She hopes to see information take root and grow into action across the country.
“It’s important to raise awareness,” Kosterski said. “We have to advocate for people who don’t have a voice.”