A Winnipeg teen is using photography to bring awareness to the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and Two-Spirit people (MMIWG2S).
In Winnipeg alone, there have been at least six Indigenous women and girls killed since January. Most recently, the body of Mackaylah Gerard-Roussin, 20, was found dead in the nearby town of Steinbach on Aug. 27.
“I’m tired of pretending like I’m not enough to change anything in the world. I kind of wanted to just send a message,” said Cael Clements, 19, a recent high school graduate.
Clements isn’t Indigenous but took a class called Current Topics in First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Studies in his final year at Kildonan-East Collegiate because he wanted to know more.
He was taught about the treaties, the residential school system, Louis Riel, and the Kanesatake resistance (Oka Crisis), among other subjects.
This is where he would develop a deeper understanding of the issues and history that affect Indigenous people today across the country.
For his final project, he chose to focus on MMIWG2S because of the impact it made on him.
“It just really resonates with me, I think it’s horrible what has happened to these women,” said Clements. “I mean it’s just a very important subject.”
He photographed different locations within the city where the women were last seen or their bodies were found and included a red dress in stark contrast to the black and white pictures to visualize the loss.
Scott Hanson, the teacher for the class, said he was moved when he saw Clements’ work.
“Just seeing the dedication and the work [Clements] put into it and hearing the backstories of the women that he researched was really emotional,” said Hanson.
Hanson, who is Métis, said the class attracts students from a range of experiences.
“I had students who knew much more than I do, who’ve participated in ceremonies and in their own cultures for years and years,” said Hanson. “And I’ve had kids who knew nothing about the topic, or very little.”
Hanson said that newcomers to Canada who didn’t know anything about Indigenous history or culture “were really excited to learn.”
‘Education for Reconciliation Stalled’
Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s call to action 62 requests that the federal, provincial, and territorial governments “make age-appropriate curriculum on residential schools, Treaties, and Aboriginal peoples’ historical and contemporary contributions to Canada a mandatory education requirement for Kindergarten to Grade Twelve students.”
Despite students’ clear interest and desire to learn about Indigenous issues and culture, actual K-12 curriculums across the country are stalling or reversing efforts to incorporate them.
In October 2020, Albertan curriculum advisors recommended that all references to residential schools in the grades K-4 curriculums be removed. As well, Ontario has recently removed the Indigenous science framework and Indigenous content from its science curriculum starting this school year.
This is in contradiction to TRC’s demand as well as a recent survey conducted in 2021, which shows the majority of Canadians believe more education about residential schools is necessary, with 62 per cent of Canadians believing that “provincial education curricula do not include nearly enough about residential schools.”
This information comes from Indigenous Watchdog, a non-profit that is “dedicated to monitoring and reporting on how reconciliation is advancing on the critical issues that are impacting the Indigenous world – including the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action”
‘A Lasting Effect’
“The more that we can talk about MMIWG2S, I think the better. I think that we can only kind of help to reduce violence and make sure it doesn’t to more people,” said Hanson, “Even if the kids knew nothing going into this course, they’re taking away that we’ve got lots of people to look after and it’s everyone job to be involved and to learn and to educate themselves.”
The last thing Clements said before finishing our interview was of his heartfelt condolences, signaling the respect and impact his education on MMIWG2S has made.
“I’d like to issue an apology to Mackaylah Gerard-Roussin’s family. I think it is terrible what happened, and my deepest condolences.”