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Red Dress Day: Manitoba launches $15 million MMIWG2S endowment fund

Manitoba is celebrating Red Dress Day to raise awareness of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people. Mitchell Ringos reports.

The Manitoba government on Sunday launched a new endowment fund for families of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people.

The $15 million fund, which will be administered by the Winnipeg Foundation, was created to support those who have lost loved ones.

“Anyone who says they believe in reconciliation, that they are on the path of reconciliation, they need to take action on that and invest in the endowment fund,” said Nahanni Fontaine, Manitoba’s Minister of Families.

Sunday’s announcement at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights coincided with Red Dress Day in Manitoba – or Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons Awareness Day as it is also known.

Red Dress Day at The Forks in Winnipeg, May 5, 2024. (Mitchell Ringos, CityNews)

It also came two days after Canada and Manitoba announced a partnership for one Red Dress Alert system that would inform the public when an Indigenous woman or girl is reported missing.

“We need justice for our women,” said Grand Chief Cathy Merrick of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.

“We have to be able to carry that work. We prefer to be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to our missing and murdered Indigenous women.”

The pilot project is expected to help establish an eventual national alert system.

“That warms my soul, my mind and my heart,” says Rayanna Chartrand of the new warning system. “If this alert had gone out (earlier), I don’t think there would be so many missing and murdered women.”

Chartrand was good friends with Ava Zaberwho was fatally shot in the city’s North End last November, leaving behind a four-year-old son.

Chartrand says while the new warning and Sunday’s Red Dress Day event at Oodena Circle in The Forks helped her heal, she feels sad that the day is still needed.

“We shouldn’t be here on May 5, Red Dress Day,” she said. “We must stand up and make these calls to action a reality because it is a struggle for people like me and all these people around here who are dealing with the pain of the murder and taking of our loved ones.”

Photo of 20-year-old Winnipeg mother Ava Zaber at a memorial in front of her home. (Joanne Roberts, CityNews)

Indigenous women and girls in Canada remain vastly overrepresented as victims of violence. Between 2009 and 2021, the homicide rate among Indigenous women and girls was six times higher than among non-Indigenous counterparts, Statistics Canada said in a report last year.

Sue Caribou, the aunt of Tanya Nepinak, who went missing in 2011, is also calling for real action.

“Search the Brady dump and all dumps,” Caribou said.

Red Dress Day was inspired by Métis artist Jamie Black’s 2010 installation project, which hung red dresses in public spaces across Canada and the US as a visual reminder of the number of Indigenous women who have been murdered or missing.

The movement has grown and local communities organize walks, events and educational gatherings.

–With files from The Canadian Press