On Thursday, Nov. 24, the Centre for International Studies (CIS) organized a discussion on missing and murdered Indigenous women (MMIW) in Canada. The event was organized and moderated by CIS coordinators Jill MacIntyre and Katharyn Stevenson.
Lisa Webb, an Inuk social worker and social justice activist originally from northern Labrador, spoke about her experiences as an Inuk woman and about the murder of her cousin, Loretta Saunders, in 2014.
Webb was emotional as she told the story of her cousin, a young woman determined to complete her degree at Saint Mary’s University and further her education in law or criminology. Webb said that Saunders had been writing a paper on MMIW at the time of her death.
Webb also spoke about her social work with Indigenous youth. She said that because many Indigenous youth come from isolated communities, they are particularly vulnerable to mistreatment by strangers when they move to cities.
“I take them down the sidewalk, teach them how to use the crosswalk, take them to the bank, and take them to the grocery store,” Webb said. “To me, the biggest thing is safety. If you see a student who looks to be from a small town, help them out.”
The second speaker was Josephine Savarese, a professor of criminology and women’s and gender studies at St. Thomas University. Savarese spoke about her academic interest in MMIW.
Savarese said her interest in this topic was sparked by the death of Pamela George of Sakimay First Nation, a sex worker and mother of two from Regina who was beaten and killed by two university students in 1995.
“I lived in Regina at that time, and that story moved me,” Savarese said. “My life was different after the story became public.”
Savarese also talked about presencing, a methodology that she uses to think and talk about MMIW.
“Presencing means focusing on the strength and resilience of the Indigenous people rather than [on] the damage [inflicted upon them] within Indigenous stories, which [represents a] continuation of colonial harm,” Savarese said.
Tawnie Martin, a student at St. Thomas University, spoke last about her experience as a Mi’kmaq woman and about the disappearance of her cousin, Mt. A student Chris Metallic, in 2012.
Martin also talked about missing and murdered Indigenous men. According to Statistics Canada data, between 1982 and 2011, 71 per cent of 2,500 murdered Indigenous Canadians were male. “It is wrong that the men get overlooked,” she said. “It is sexism and discrimination.”
When asked what she wanted people to learn and understand about the topic of MMIW, Webb said, “I want the country, the world, to know that we matter. As Indigenous, aboriginal, Maliseet, Inuit, Mi’kmaq. I want the world to know we matter, our lives matter, we are human, we are here.”