THUNDER BAY - An exhibit that provides detailed information on the tragedy of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls is not only meant to educate, but hopefully inspire people to take action on what is an ongoing issue across Canada, including here in Thunder Bay.
“The only way we are going to get to the point of taking action on the issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls is if we are aware and educated about the issues that contribute to this tragedy,” said Michele Solomon, community development manager with the Ontario Native Women’s Association. “Without that knowledge, we are not in a position to take that action.”
The Legacy of Hope Waniskahtan Exhibit is now on display at the Intercity Shopping Centre and is meant to create awareness about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and the 2SLGBTQQIA+ community.
The exhibit is being hosted by the Office of Indigenous Initiatives at Lakehead University, in partnership with the Ontario Native Women’s Association, and will be on display until Aug. 13 before being set up at Lakehead University in October.
“We have had several exhibits from the Legacy of Hope. This is our third exhibit,” said Denise Baxter, vice provost of Indigenous initiatives at Lakehead University. “We have found the Legacy of Hope as a foundation has very well researched community-based projects. We have had really positive feedback from people who have been able to come view these exhibits.”
The Legacy of Hope Foundation is a national, Indigenous-led organization that seeks to promote healing and reconciliation through education and awareness on the issues affecting Indigenous people.
Baxter said there are still colonial structures in place that are violent toward Indigenous people and she hopes the exhibit being on display in a public space will help people understand the seriousness of the high rates of violence against Indigenous women.
“These are people, these are people’s lives who have been lost or missing who are near and dear to us and our communities,” she said. “Our mothers, sisters, aunties, cousins that have for a variety of reasons, and sometimes nothing to do with themselves, it’s people perpetuating violence against women and the LGBTQ and two-spirit communities because they can.”
Solomon added its important there is a space for people to have access to this information and read the personal stories of the people affected, because often there is misinformation that circulates in the community.
“I think there’s a lot of information out there but it might not all be grounded in strength of Indigenous women and community,” she said. “A lot of the information that’s out there really sheds Indigenous women in a negative light and focuses on some of the negative things rather than focusing on the important things like the role of Indigenous women in community and family.”
A national inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was first launched in the summer of 2016 and the final report was released in June 2019.
Baxter said it is important to remember that the inquiry and report is not about a historical event, but rather an ongoing problem across Canada, and it’s up to everyone in the country to step up and take action, either by contacting help when someone is in distress, recognizing when a child or family are in need of help, or contact local representatives to voice concerns.
“There are many avenues and ways where we hope people will realize that their voices are important to support everybody, every single person of this country,” she said.“By having people come together and bring awareness to a situation that is not far away from us, it happens here in Thunder Bay, we wanted to make sure people had a better understanding of traditional teachings, the importance of women in society, the importance of water keepers, custodians of land, often the matriarchs of families, and how when people are respected and safe, our whole community can flourish.”