By: Isaac Nay, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The federal government needs to instate a wireless-device alert system for missing Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people, says Winnipeg Centre MP Leah Gazan.
Thousands of Indigenous women and girls have gone missing in Canada. In Alberta, a grassroots group created an alert system of its own to help find missing Indigenous people. Now, the NDP MP is urging the federal government to extend its existing alert system to help notify Canadians when Indigenous people go missing nearby.
Gazan wants to name the system for the red dresses that have come to symbolize missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
“We have an ongoing crisis, and it requires an urgent response,” Gazan said. “This is one response that is required, in addition to many others, to deal with this ongoing genocide.”
Dan Martel is a co-founder of the grassroots organization Aboriginal Alert, which preserves profiles online of Indigenous people who have gone missing in Canada. Martel said the alerts help find missing people and preserve information about individuals to help investigations and even cold cases.
When they learn an Indigenous person has gone missing, the group sends out social media blasts and emails to any of its members within 100 kilometres of where the person was last seen. Then, its 409 volunteers can put up posters and organize searches in the area.
“We want to demonstrate to the government that we are doing something about it and we’re making an impact,” Martel said.
Martel’s group added 931 alerts for missing Indigenous people last year. More than half of those alerts were issued in Manitoba and Alberta, and of those people reported missing, 141 — about 15 per cent — were still not found by the end of the year.
“This is alarming,” Martel said. “These people are loved and cared for.”
Right now, the grassroots alert system relies on people and police to report when Indigenous people go missing. The system can only reach the public through social media and the local efforts of its volunteers. Martel said he would welcome a federal system that sent out phone or text alerts.
Gazan said a federal alert system would help increase the chances missing Indigenous people are found. Authorities issued 129 Amber Alerts across Canada from 2009 until 2021. Of those cases, 120 — about 93 per cent — of the children have been found. Gazan said she wants a similar system for Indigenous women, girls and non-binary people.
Infrastructure for an alert system already exists, she noted. Alert Ready, Canada’s national public alert system, already helps authorities broadcast extreme weather and Amber Alerts to Canadians’ cellphones.
Gazan “urges” the federal government to extend the system to Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people.
“Often, we go missing with a lack of response from police. Sometimes families are not even notified,” Gazan said. “That’s a testament to why we need a red dress alert. Should we go missing, we must be found.”
Isaac Phan Nay / Canada’s National Observer / Local Journalism Initiative