Elder appeals for First Nations people to end violence ‘against ourselves and others’


Winnipeg police tape off an area where a 14 year old Indigenous girl was stabbed to death on Dec. 15. Photo: APTN>

An Elder with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs says the increase in violence against First Nations people and others in the province needs to be stopped.

“As First Nations Peoples, and in accordance with our own laws and traditions, we embrace the responsibility for each other’s well-being, acknowledging the intricate web of connections that bind us together,” said Sherry Copenace, a member of the assembly’s Elders Council. “We recognize that the gifts bestowed upon us by the Creator are meant to be used with honour and respect, fostering a commitment to care for and protect one another with love and compassion, replacing the values shared across the diverse First Nations in Manitoba.

“The violence we are perpetuating against ourselves and others must come to an end.”

The Elder’s comments were part of a joint statement released Thursday by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, Southern Chiefs Organization and Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak urging the federal government and Manitoba to address the “safety concerns” of First Nations people from what they call “alarming rates of violence.”

“Since March 2022, we have witnessed an appalling surge in murders, disappearances, and instances of neglect when our people are in distress,” said the statement. “In the past 12 months alone, 25 female victims of homicide and over 400 missing women, girls and Two-Spirited individuals have been reported.

“With approximately 77,051 First Nation individuals residing off-reserve in Manitoba – nearly half of whom call Winnipeg home – the gravity of the situation cannot be overstated.”

Most recently in Winnipeg, police were looking for Joey Michael Audy, 35, Evelyn Marie McKay, 40, and Romeo Chris Miles, 27, in connection with the case of a woman who was bound and placed in a dumpster. All people involved are Indigenous.

At the beginning of December, a 14-year-old Indigenous girl was stabbed to death in broad daylight. Police arrested and charged a 17-year-old boy with second-degree murder.

On Dec. 1, Winnipeg police charged Jamie Randy Felix, 32, a member of Berens River First Nation who grew up in Winnipeg, with four counts of second-degree murder.

Police said Felix is also charged with one count of attempt to commit murder in connection with a Nov. 26 shooting.

Crystal Shannon Beardy, 34, and her sister Stephanie Amanda Beardy, 33, both from Lake St. Martin First Nation, were killed along with Melelek Leseri Lesikel, 29, and Dylan Maxwell Lavallee, 41.

A year ago, police charged Jeremy Skibiki with four counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of four First Nations women. Rebecca Contois, Morgan Harris, Marcedes Myran and an unidentified victim known as Buffalo Woman. Two of the women are believed to be buried in a private landfill outside Winnipeg. Remains of Contois were discovered in the Brady landfill in the city. The whereabouts of Buffalo Woman are unknown.

In the last three years, Manitoba RCMP said Indigenous women make up 21 per cent of all homicides in its jurisdiction.

“The lack of decisive action by governments has resulted in severe harm against First Nations women, who are now facing unprecedented levels of violence,” said Cathy Merrick, grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, in the statement. “We are deeply concerned about historical perspectives, where the previous government pushed the narrative that First Nations women are disposable.

“Today, we are witnessing the tragic consequences of such harmful and unregulated political rhetoric, and we question where is the accountability for these words that seem to correlate to the rise of violence against our women.”

Garrison Settee, grand chief of the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, a political advocacy organization that represents First Nations in northern Manitoba that belong to Treaties 4, 5, 6 and 10, told APTN News that Indigenous leaders want to see a plan to work together.

“These recent developments are very disturbing and it is inconceivable that we do not have a plan in place to address this issue. As Indigenous leaders, we don’t have the resources to do this on our own but we want to do something and there has been many calls to action for justice when it comes to missing and murdered Indigenous women,” he said.

The three organizations said they’re “deeply concerned” that Canada and Manitoba Premier Wab Kinew are focusing on international matters including the Middle East, that has diverted their attention from “pressing issues facing our own people of Winnipeg.

“In our commitment to justice and equity, the Southern Chiefs Organization calls upon all levels of government, law enforcement, and the community to work collaboratively to address and eradicate the violence that disproportionately affects First Nations women, girls and two-spirited individuals in Winnipeg,” added Grand Chief Jerry Daniels in the statement Thursday.

With files from Tamara Pimentel 

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