A solidarity vigil last Saturday in Montreal paid tribute to four First Nations victims of an accused serial killer in Winnipeg.
Although thousands of kilometres away, homeless advocates say missing and murdered Indigenous women are a going concern in Montreal as well.
“This is seriously an issue here – it’s not just something that happens in Winnipeg or in Vancouver – it happens here,” said Nakuset, a spokesperson for the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal.
Across Canada, Indigenous women are five times more likely to be a victim of homicide.
In Montreal, they are 11 times more likely to be randomly stopped and questioned by police.
David Chapman of non-profit day shelter Resilience Montreal said this creates a climate of distrust. And makes Indigenous women more hesitant to report sexual assault or other dangerous situations.
“I can tell you that there’s predators right now, that I’m aware of, who are raping women on a monthly basis, and getting away with it continuously, targeting homeless women,” said Chapman. “And the reason the authorities don’t get creative is simply because they don’t care.”
“What we’ve learned is that if you choose Indigenous women, you will be successful. Because nobody cares,” they said.
Demonstrators are now camping outside the entrance of Winnipeg’s Brady Road landfill to force another search for possible victims.
They have succeeded in stopping access to the municipal facility for now, while the privately run Prairie Green landfill outside Winnipeg paused its operations voluntarily after city police say they wouldn’t – and couldn’t – search due to dangerous and impregnable conditions.
That is why the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal created the Iskweu Project: to liaise with police and support urban Indigenous women. In 2021 they introduced a confidential tipline and working to improve Quebec’s missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls’ database.
“We’re really at the point where policy change is needed,” said Iskweu spokesperson Tanisha Gallichon. “We’ve had promise after promise from the government, and, in my opinion, they’re just not stepping up.
“So if you have a platform, if you’re able to talk about the crisis, it’s due time to do so – and I think that’s the best form of allyship right now.”
Iskwue recently launched a Red Dress Alert Facebook page.
Two names so far
So far it has published two names: Donna Pare, an Inuk woman who vanished in 2019, and Linda Uqaituk Kirshner, 14, who hasn’t been seen in three weeks.
They’re also working with Quebec Native Women and provincial police to launch a Red Dress Alert app and push notifications.
It’s a plan that Manitoba First Nations MP Leah Gazan (NDP) called for Canada wide two weeks ago.
“When a non-Indigenous person goes missing, they’re usually found much quicker than when our people go missing,” said Nakuset, “so if this is something that can at least bring awareness, and people can sort of pay attention to, then I think it’s worth trying to do – and we’re on it.”