City of Saskatoon: Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls & Two Spirit report recommends community Matriarch as a safety resource
July 14, 2021
A report directed by City Council to explore supports for Indigenous women and girls and two spirit people (IWG2S) recommends establishing an Independent Office of the Representative Matriarchs who will work with other matriarchs on creating an IWG2S Centre. The Matriarch or “Auntie” will assist IWG2S.
“She would act as aunties do,” says Melissa Cote, Director of Indigenous Initiatives. “Indigenous women, girls and two spirit people know they can go to an auntie with anything and an auntie will provide advice; they will advocate for them within the systems and challenge the system itself. They do their best to protect them and keep them safe.”
This work follows a July 29, 2019 resolution of City Council that the Administration review the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and identify options for how the City of Saskatoon can respond to the Report’s Calls for Justice that are within the City’s jurisdiction, in a fashion similar to the existing review that has been undertaken for the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
In November 2020, the City created a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and Two Spirit (MMIWG2S) Advisory Group comprised of an Elder and a number of organizations:
- Aboriginal Friendship Centres of Saskatchewan
- Iskwewuk Ewichiwitochik (Women Walking Together)
- Les Filles de Madelaine/CUMFI
- Saskatoon Public Schools
- Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools
- Saskatoon Tribal Council
- Saskatchewan Health Authority
- Sixties Scoop Indigenous Society of Saskatchewan Inc.
- Saskatoon Police Service
- Saskatoon Public Library
- Saskatoon Fire Department
- Royal Canadian Mounted Police
The purpose of the Advisory Group was to assist in the selection of a consultant; share information and collaborate; and provide guidance and advice in the development of the report.
If approved by City Council, Cote says the Office of the Representative of the Matriarchs will ensure that IWG2S are connected to services that they need to be connected to, be there for IWG2S who are in trouble and provide guidance.
“But most of all, the Auntie will be there to let them know that they are loved and that they matter.”
Cote says the City will work with the Advisory Group and partners to determine the process for selecting a representative of the Aunties.
The report entitled “IWG2S Coming Home” was prepared by Hope Restored Canada; these consultants believe it is critical to acknowledge the role that Indigenous women have played in the past and that their experiences and knowledge be brought to the forefront for present and future actions. To capture this, they have chosen and used the term “matriarch” in this report. In Indigenous families, aunties often serve as an extra parent who provides advice and emotional support to relatives.
“So, these are the empowered leaders for families and community. They are the Indigenous women and two spirit people that are already advising all over the City on Indigenous issues – the ones that people go to for advice as counsellors, advisors, leaders and confidants.”
The Administration will present the study to the Governance and Priorities Committee of City Council on Monday July 19.
Based on an initial review, Administration will then bring forward options for operational and capital funding in the 2022-23 Business Plan and Budget to implement the recommendation and actions in the Final Report.
If implemented, the Centre will work with non-profit organizations, federal and provincial governments to coordinate services. The report offers possibilities such as:
- Coordination of services that work in tandem with City departments and other agencies offering services to IWG2S
- Indigenous search and rescue unit
- Centralized knowledge base and referrals
- Ceremony / Elders/ Matriarchs
Next steps will include an analysis of the Final Report submitted by Hope Restored Canada; a debrief with the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and Two Spirit Advisory Group and Hope Restored Canada. Following this, a communications, public education, and engagement plan will be developed.
“This report stresses we need to listen to the Aunties,” Cote says. “At a very basic level, every Indigenous woman, girl and two-spirited person needs safe spaces: a place to sleep; a bathroom to use in privacy; a kitchen in which to feed themselves and family. These are basic needs; a human right and an action people can get behind.”