Diane Smoke-Thomas (left) with her niece Patricia Carpenter, murdered in 1992, and Martina Osawamick, with a photo of her sister, Jean Pheasant-Bah, murdered in 1968, were two of the family members honoured at Sudbury’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Conference, November 29-30 – Photo: Laura Young

By Laura E. Young

SUDBURY– Greater Sudbury Police is seeking federal funding to continue the work  necessary to help the Indigenous community live free from violence, a program that was launched in 2016 and that is nearing the end.

The two-year project reached a climactic moment November 29-30 with the Honouring Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Conference.

The conference essentially sold out and welcomed over 300 people from across Canada, including 30 family members  who have missing and, or, murdered female members, said Lisa Osawamick, a conference organizer.

For Osawamick, the Aboriginal women’s violence prevention coordinator with the Greater Sudbury Police Service, the next logical steps in the project would create links with Aboriginal youth.

They will also listen to community feedback for additional ideas, she said.

“That’s how we started this project (by) hearing what our community needs. That’s how we can continue on. What is our community saying? Let’s listen to our youth. Let’s listen to our elders. Let’s listen to our men. What can we do that we’re not already doing?”

The initial focus of the project was on empowering women.

The conference developed after the initial partnership between N’Swakamok Native Friendship Centre and Greater Sudbury Police Services. The project was formed to develop a proactive, preventative strategy to counteract violence against Aboriginal women. It was launched in June 2016.

Looking ahead to build the spirit of our women – learning to live free from violence, received $166,462 from the federal ministry of justice.

Sudbury chief of police Paul Pederson views funding for the project as a necessary resource. He is hopeful the request to the government will be approved, he said.

“It’s not core police funding,” he said.

It’s always a challenge for funding to be supported when it is for something that may not be law enforcement, he said.

“It’s very difficult for us to sometimes (funding argument) argue that investment in proactive work is actually better than investment in reactive law enforcement work.”

As well, he declined to address the differences between policing and Aboriginal community issues in Sudbury and Thunder Bay.

Instead, Pedersen credited instead the leadership of many, but specifically Grant Dokis, Sudbury’s first Indigenous police officer, who retired in 2016.

Dokis  helped create the MKWA police ride along program for Aboriginal youth. The program began in 2005. Dokis also worked to ensure that new recruits receive eight hours of Indigenous learning before they begin to patrol the city.

“You put 30 years of that together and you put us to where we are here (today). That’s why we can host a conference like this. Whereas a conference like this in other communities (might) be marked by protests,” Pedersen said.

The Sudbury community faces issues that need to be fixed and that should be protested, he added.

“But I think potentially we’ve moved it a little further form protest to action (to) what are the activities that we can do here?”

The subject of MMIWG is in the news with the national inquiry, currently touring Canada, and listening to the families of the missing women.

For Osawamick, Sudbury is doing what it can to raise awareness of the issue.

She appreciates most when the issue is covered in what she calls a “good” way in which the tragic subject is dealt with in a way that honours the lives lost.

“(The stories) are going to be negative regardless but these women are somebody’s daughter, somebody’s mom. I think we’re bringing awareness here in our community and that’s a good thing that everybody in Sudbury knows what we’re doing.”