Hundreds of people walk to honour MMIWG2S+ in Yellowknife
More than 100 people took part in events across Yellowknife to honoured missing and murdered Indigenous people on Friday – Red Dress Day and a national awareness day.
The day’s events were organized by the Native Women’s Association of the Northwest Territories and Yellowknives Dene First Nation, beginning with a 3.5-km walk from Somba K’e Park in downtown Yellowknife to Ndılǫ.
Some cars honked their horns in support of marchers, while others watched from the sidewalk or windows overlooking Franklin Avenue.
Ken Bryan said he joined the march to raise awareness about what happened to his fiancée, Tara Niptanatiak. Niptanatiak’s youngest two daughters, Arika and Aryn, joined Ken on the march, holding pictures of their mother. Her eldest daughters Ariele and Arianna were unable to attend, said Bryan.
This report discusses missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people. If you require immediate support, you can call the Native Women’s Association of the NWT emergency line at 867-920-2978, the NWT Help Line at 1-800-661-0844, the Inuit and First Nations Hope and Wellness Helpline at 1-855-242-3310, or Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868 (or text CONNECT to 686868).
Niptanatiak died in February 2022. Bryan believes the Calgary Police Service did not properly investigate her death.
“The whole family feels that there was an injustice done there, and that she didn’t get the treatment that any person should have got, regardless of race, colour, creed,” Bryan said. “She was just kind-of swept under the rug.”
Bryan remembers how close Niptanatiak was with his own foster sister. “They just clicked, instantly, like sisters.”
“I admit the fact that she’s gone, but I don’t want to,” Bryan said. “I talk to her every day, still. I miss her like you wouldn’t believe.”
Throughout the march, walkers hung paper red dresses along the road to commemorate missing and murdered Indigenous people. At each dress, the names of murdered and missing individuals were read out.
Once in Ndılǫ, members of Yellowknives Dene First Nation took part in a fire-feeding ceremony at which Beatrice Antoine – wife of Dene National Chief Gerald Antoine, who could not attend as he is travelling – delivered opening remarks.
“In sharing the truth, our hope is that our nation as a family will see what they have always had, and continue to have today: the ability to thrive as a family, for our children to be good people,” said Beatrice Antoine.
Organizer Amanda Baton welcomed everyone into the Ndılǫ gym for stew and bannock before the afternoon’s scheduled events of guest speakers, a sharing circle and a drum dance.
In the hall of that gym hung a large banner, sown with hearts to commemorate missing and murdered Indigenous people as well as those harmed by the residential school system. Framed photos of people commemorated on the walk sat on a table in front of the tapestry.
Lindsay Debassige, a M’Chigeeng Anishinabek two-spirit person, said attending the march was important to show support for her kin and bring strength to the community – but wished there had been more leadership representation from the territorial and municipal governments at the march.
Debassige was accompanied by Chelsea Thacker, the executive director of the Northern Mosaic Network. The pair were also representing the Qmunity Camp NWT summer camp.
Thacker, who identifies as a white settler, said: “This is the minimum we can do, is show up and participate in this march today.”
The two held a flag throughout the march that represents two-spirit, Indigiqueer, and transgender Indigenous people.
“It’s really important to stand up and do these things,” said Debassige, “so we can fight back for colonial violence and the way that the gender binary and hetero-patriarchy has taken over our communities.”