Advocates say more needed to protect Indigenous women in Manitoba after death of Jana Williams

First Nations advocates and politicians are pressing the Manitoba government to do more when it comes to implementing the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls’ calls for justice following the death of Jana Williams.

“The province of Manitoba needs to do better. We’re seeing very little action from this government and we need to do a lot better,” Hilda Anderson-Pyrz said during a Facebook live event Tuesday.

Anderson-Pyrz is the program manager for the MMIWG Liaison Unit at Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO), an advocacy group representing northern First Nations in the province.

She is also a MMIWG family member. Her sister died under suspicious circumstances in Leaf Rapids, located about 1,000 km north of Winnipeg, in 2011.

She said until the province starts implementing the 231 calls for justice, Indigenous women, girls and Two-Spirit will continue to be put at risk.

“Every time we lose an Indigenous women or girl or 2SLGBTQQIA+ individual it’s very heartbreaking not only to the family but we feel it as a community. We can’t continue to carry this heaviness and this pain. It has to stop. It cannot continue,” she said.

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Winnipeg police looking to speak with anyone who knew Jana Williams 

Williams’ remains were found on March 4 in Winnipeg’s North End.

The 28-year-old was a mother of two and pregnant with her third child, according to family.

This week police put out a public plea asking for information surrounding her homicide.

They believe Williams was transient at the time of her death and wasn’t staying at a fixed address.

There needs to be more barrier free housing and supports for Indigenous women, girls and Two-Spirit, said Anderson-Pyrz.

She added right now the criteria to access resources is not receptive to each individual’s needs.

“Racism is killing Indigenous women and girls and 2SLGBTQQIA+, and it must be addressed and those barriers need to be removed. We also need adequate resourcing and supports.”

Residents in Hollow Water First Nation have a number of items outside their homes to support the family of Jana Williams. Photo courtesy: Lena Bushie-Bird

Nahanni Fontaine, an NDP MLA in Manitoba, raised the issue of gender-based violence in a statement during Monday’s Legislative Assembly and International Women’s Day.

“Ms. Williams’ remains were thrown away like garbage like Tina Fontaine and Felicia Solomon Osborne before here. Indigenous women, girls and Two-Spirit continue to be under attack in this province,” said Fontaine.

“The question on this day is where is the MMIWG2S National Inquiry’s Calls for Justice, where’s the public inquiry into the shooting death of Eishia Hudson and where is the care, justice and protections for Indigenous women and girls?”

Her statement ended with all those in attendance standing for a moment of silence.

In an email to APTN News, the province says its working on the issue.

“Our government recognizes that collaboration across all departments is required when addressing the 231 Calls for Justice from the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) National Inquiry,” said a spokesperson with Manitoba Justice.

“Manitoba Justice announced calls for proposals in December, with funding being distributed this month, for Indigenous-led agencies to address violence against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people. This funding opportunity aligns with the Calls for Justice from (MMIWG) National Inquiry, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Recommendations, the Criminal Justice Modernization Strategy, as well as the Gender-based Violence Committee of Cabinet Framework.*

Meanwhile in Williams’ home community of Hollow Water First Nation, nearly 200 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, residents are showing their support by hanging red dresses.

Members are planning a vigil in the community for a later date.

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