President's Message - February 14, 2024

February 14, 2024

The health and well-being of Red River Métis women is important, and it has taken prominence in recent weeks. We are a matriarchal nation - it is our mothers who teach us and lead our families, and who are the majority of our leaders at the Local level, as well as the staff leadership of your Red River Métis Government. Of the 23 elected officials sitting around the MMF Cabinet table, 11 are women, so there can be no question that our women play an important role in our families, our Nation, and our government.

But we know that Red River Métis women are also vulnerable to the epidemic of violence against Indigenous women, and the resulting heartache of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG).

Spokeswoman Anita Campbell of Infinity Women Secretariat and Minister Frances Chartrand and I attended the MMIWG roundtable in Ottawa last week, which saw federal, provincial, and territorial governments gather with Indigenous governments and organizations to discuss this important issue. We listened to the challenges and concerns facing Indigenous communities across Canada, and worked together to find solutions that can be implemented. We also spoke about our challenges and concerns, and the programs we've initiated to support our women.

One of the most significant topics discussed was creating a Red Dress Alert. Similar to Amber Alerts for children who have gone missing, and Silver Alerts for seniors and Elders who can't be located, a Red Dress Alert system would allow for greater profile and awareness when an Indigenous woman or person goes missing.

Of course, your Red River Métis Government is supportive of a Red Dress Alert system. But there are many questions that need to be addressed - how do communities without broadband internet receive the alerts? What are the circumstances under which a Red Dress Alert is triggered? Who makes the decision to trigger a Red Dress Alert? How are the relevant Indigenous governments and organizations engaged in the process? It is our way that when someone goes missing, we don't just react to that - we must be poised to support the family, and act in concert with them, when they express their needs. Above all else, a Red Dress Alert must be used in a thoughtful, measured way, so that we don't lose the significance and importance of each alert.

Even with these questions to address, and the functional operation of a Red Dress Alert system, we know that it a can be a powerful tool and can work with the overall effort to reduce the harm and violence as we help to bring our missing loved ones home before they are permanently lost to us.

By now, I'm sure you will have heard about the arrest made in the case of Crystal Saunders - a 24-year-old woman who identified as Métis, who was murdered 17 years ago. Our hearts go out to Crystal's family and friends, as we know that an arrest can bring some sense of relief or closure, but it doesn't bring Crystal back. There is also a long road ahead, with the trial and eventual verdict to come. These are painful things to face for those who loved Crystal, as this process reopens old wounds and memories of difficult times.

Thanks to advancements in DNA analysis and technology, the RCMP have the suspect in custody. I commend the RCMP for never giving up on this case, and for finally being able to arrest a suspect. It's crucial that cold cases involving MMIWG remain active, because without resolution, it is incredibly hard to find a path toward healing for those left behind. Continuing to work on these cases shows families, communities, and Indigenous Nations that their lost loved ones have not been forgotten.

While our relationship with the RCMP continues to gain strength, through partnership and strong communication, there are still opportunities to enhance our efforts, so that we can be more present for our families through difficult times, including announcements of arrests and throughout court processes. I have high confidence that Spokeswoman Campbell and Minister Julyda Lagimodiere of the Métis Justice Institute will continue this dialogue with the RCMP, fostering better understanding and implementing stronger policies and programs.

One program that is already well underway, which we spoke about at the MMIWG roundtable, is the Pey Key Way Ta Hin - Bring Me Home Program. We shared that ending the epidemic of violence against our women is such a priority for our Nation that we set aside $1 million of your own Red River Métis Government's funds, held on your behalf, to create this family-driven, inclusive program. The funding allows us to provide a $10,000 reward for information leading to arrests and convictions in cold cases involving missing and murdered loved ones, as well as putting up billboards to raise awareness about the missing individuals. I hope you are as proud as we are that we have made such great strides that we can invest in a fund like this, to help grieving families find their missing loved ones.

These rewards and billboards require a coordinated approach with our RCMP partners. Every time we announce a reward or put up a billboard, their offices receive a high volume of calls, and they need to be staffed and prepared to field these calls.

To date, we have supported Jennifer Catcheway's family with an additional $10,000 for tips leading to an arrest and conviction in her case, on top of the $10,000 offered by the family. We have also offered $10,000 for information leading to an arrest and conviction in Marcus McKay's case, and have put up a billboard near his last known location. We are currently engaged in discussions with several other families to hear their stories and see how the program may work for them. It's very clear that there is no true closure for families as long as their loved ones remain missing, or their murders remain unsolved.

Spokeswoman Campbell and her team have been hard at work developing the second part of the Pey Key Way Ta Hin - Bring Me Home Program, which provides support for the families once the cases have been solved, or loved ones have been located. We know that making an arrest or locating a loved one is only one part of the process. We need to be able to support them every step of the way. The second part of the program will do exactly that, whether it be through advocacy, wraparound services, or just a warm and comforting presence when they need it. The Red River Métis Government is here to support our women and their families.

We continue to support our women through violence prevention education, empowerment, community connection, and economic opportunities. But there is still so much more to be done before we can truly say we've addressed this epidemic of violence against our women and all Indigenous women. We will never stop building partnerships, raising awareness, and strengthening our women.

Until we meet again, I offer my prayers to all our families, Citizens, friends, and neighbours, and my deepest condolences to those who have been caused to grieve.



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