More Than Just a Number by Angela Lavallee

Content Warning: discussion of a woman currently experiencing intimate partner violence.

Savior* sat in a daze looking at a wall that used to have photos displayed, but was now an empty space. The father of her son, Pierce*, went from kissing her tears away, to breaking her things, to beating her spirit and body. His character that was once easy-going was now fueled with rage and broken promises. Where the love for him in her heart once flowed was now replaced with fear and anxiety. The kitchen, where her table used to sit, was now occupied with his family’s intoxicated bodies and laughter.

Savior stayed close to her son because she knew the mirage of happiness would eventually shift to plastered cries. Pierce was beginning to pace and yell. Her heart raced, and her body tingled with misery. She knew it was time to get out or he would start inflicting his agony onto her. She grabbed her son and made her way to the door. She ran without looking back and followed the smell of fresh bread that lingered in the air. But, she was waiting for over an hour, and the police were still not there. Over an hour and her cab to the shelter was not there. She began to wonder why, for over an hour she had to wait with her son. He was only wearing soiled socks, pants and a T-shirt on and people were beginning to stare. Over an hour is more than enough time to wonder if it would have been easier to stay at home.

As an Indigenous woman who has experienced all forms of violence, when I bring awareness around the issues involving Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirited (MMIWG2S), I do not reflect on a period that is historical. We still have to challenge the people and spaces who refer to violence on Indigenous women and girls as a time that has passed. Savior and her son having to wait in a bakery for over an hour was not prior to the MMIWG2S inquiry, it happened in November 2019, just two days before the launch of 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based violence (GBV). Unfortunately, GBV is one of the peripheral issues Indigenous women, girls and two-spirited have in common. We do not want it, but it is forced upon us.

Suffering, vulnerability and battered are words that too often surface when documents or people speak to Indigenous women, girls and two-spirited. However, individuals in society and systems put us into spaces where suffering could and has become the norm. Indigenous women are not vulnerable; it is harmful people and systems who contribute and make it their mission to breaking down our resiliency and spirit. Our bodies and spirits are not created to be battered, people and systems are enabled and get away with abusing us.

Many of our women and girls are still experiencing all forms of violence. However, in all of that, we are creating non-violent social change and reclaiming our spaces. We are choosing to question western laws formed by a patriarchal culture and systems. We are led by our Indigenous ways of knowing. I am blessed to have crossed paths and share space with many Indigenous women and girls. Together we build, learn, love, cry, and celebrate. We are quiet, loud, fierce and gentle. The women and girls in my life are breaking down gender-based violence in dwellings as private as their own homes to audience filled places such as the political rooms across our nations. There is conflict, but there is also love. There is anger, but there is hope. There is grief, but there is healing. There are broken systems, but there is building. There are negative impacts, but there are positive responses.

On December 1, 2019, a circle of us gathered to a naming ceremony of the Redress Warming Hut Project. We prayed for our loved ones, the women, girls and two-spirited from our past, present and future. I prayed for justice, peace, hope and healing for women and girls like Savior and my late granddaughter Zaylynn. I prayed for my children and granddaughter Jevenah. We prayed for the men, boys and we honoured our allies. Finally, I prayed for myself because until all the 231 calls to justice outlined in the final MMIWG2S national inquiry report are implemented, my reality is waking up each day and experiencing some form of injustice and inequality. We have and always will be one another’s protectors.

*Please note: the names of Savior and Pierce have been changed to to protect the identity of the individuals in this story.

Angela Lavalle is a Mother, Grandmother, Helper with and for Community, Student, Focus Oriented Therapist.

Today we ask that you support the work of Angela in her various capacities. Please find their links below and consider getting involved.

· She is the Chairperson for the board of Wahbung Abinoonjiiag (“the children of tomorrow”). Wahbung was established to empower children and their families to break the cycle of violence. They have an amazing program in the North End of Winnipeg and provide intervention and prevention services for women and their families. Their website is under construction, but you can follow them on Twitter and Facebook. They have a variety of cultural and supportive programs in the North End of Winnipeg and provide intervention and prevention services for women and their families. Their website is under construction, but you can follow them on Twitter and Facebook.

· Angela serves as a coordinator of the Collective of Voices; their work aims to support initiatives and social actions by indigenous communities and honour all women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA+ who are warriors and leaders. Their current focus is creating the “MMIWG2S Red Dress Warming Hut – Honouring Our Loved Ones” for the Red River skating trail. You can follow their work and find out more on their Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

· Angela is the founder of Soles on Fire, an annual run to bring awareness, prevention and intervention on violence on women and girls and, most importantly, to celebrate and honour life. The second annual 1k & 5 k Family Fun Run will occur September 20th, 2020, at the Forks in Oodena Circle. Get involved by running, walking or volunteering by following them on Facebook!