N.W.T. needs to spend more to protect vulnerable people in territory say MMIWG advocates

A sacred fire flickered as Dene drummers sang a prayer song to honour missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people on Red Dress Day.

A large crowd gathered at the legislature in Yellowknife by the larger-than-life red dress MMIWG monument, a symbol of the lives taken and the inequities that persist for Indigenous women and girls.

The event was organized by the Yellowknife Women’s Society, Native Women’s Association of the NWT and Dene Nation.

Sabet Biscaye, executive director of the Gender Equity Division within the Territorial Department of Executive and Indigenous Affairs, challenged the public to get to know the survivors and families.

“When you know somebody better, on an intimate level, it’s more difficult to be indifferent towards that person,” Biscaye said. “Find out, get their names, find out about them.”

She shared a personal story of her auntie Emily, recalling her sense of humour and the three children she left behind from a “senseless act,” of intimate partner violence.

“As Indigenous people, we look after our extended family. But a mom is a mom, no one can replace her,” she said. “This is the reality for a lot of the Indigenous families out there and here in the NWT.”

Many people brought signs of their missing and murdered loved ones from the north, serving as a reminder of the violence indigenous women and girls experience at home, in the workplace, and in the community. Crystal Catholique proudly stood, holding a poster in honor of Charlene Catholique, who disappeared without a trace on the morning of June 22, 1990.

“When she was 15 she went missing in and around Behchoko, and there’s still no sign,” Catholique said. “We just wish people would speak up because somebody saw something, somebody knows something.”

Renee Sanderson, executive director of the Yellowknife Women’s Society, stood tall and carried a photo of her cousin Amber Tuccaro, who was murdered in Leduc, Alta.
The case remains unsolved and the family has not found justice.

“There is a voice that was recorded, and I encourage everyone to take a minute, it’s on YouTube to see if you recognize the voice, Sanderson said. “I ask if you know of anything that might have happened, please reach out to your local RCMP station.”

She said the territorial government should invest more in protecting vulnerable populations.

“We don’t have a treatment program facility; we don’t have a trauma center, all the individuals who want to get help to deal with their trauma or to go on that healing path they are referred south,” Sanderson said. “Being displaced from your family, from your support group is challenging.”
Red Dress participants marched through the downtown core and gathered at the Tree of Peace Friendship Centre.

Sanderson mentioned some progress made over the last year, including the gradual development of a Missing Persons Act.

“Today marks one year that Frank Gruben has been missing and we still don’t know where he is, the family still doesn’t have the answers,” Sanderson said. “If we had that [missing persons act] in place it would give more authority to RCMP and those investigating the case.”

Gruben, an Inuvialuit and Gwich’in man was a student at Aurora College and living in Fort Smith at the time of his disappearance.

In November 2022, the territorial government released a 136-page draft report to respond to the federal calls for justice from the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

The report detailed initiatives like setting up a MMIWG advisory committee, developing policy frameworks to address family issues, and partnering with the Native Women’s Association of the NWT to offer community support.

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