MHA Times

Chairman Fox's Weekly Projects Update

Written By Jacqueline Spegal

Part Two of the Five-Part MMIP Symposium Series

On May 5th, 2022 in Fargo, ND- the University of North Dakota’s Student Social Work Association (Phi Alpha) held a Missing & Murdered Indigenous Peoples Symposium. Last week, in part one of the five-part series, we covered the introduction and prayer. This week’s story details a portion of the speech by Agnes Woodward in regards to the history of the MMIP movement.

Agnes Woodward Photo Courtesy of UND Student Social Work Association

After the Spirit Lake Nation Singers finished their tribute to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous People, Vicki Alberts took the stage to thank them and the crowd gave them a round of applause. Next, she thanked the Student Social Work Association for their hard work in putting the Symposium together, and the crowd once again cheered. Lastly, she introduced Agnes Woodward. Alberts explained that Woodward was the Director of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous People’s Story Project.

Agnes Woodward addressing the guests at the UND MMIP Symposium

Woodward took the stage wearing a handmade ribbon skirt. She began by thanking those that proceeded her in the symposium, thanking those that attended and requesting that those present try to stay for the entire symposium. “I think that everyone has a voice when it comes to raising awareness and ending violence against indigenous people.” She said in reference to hearing what all of the speakers had prepared.

Woodward prefaced the importance of the family members of the missing and murdered indigenous people in the movement “I just want to take a moment to acknowledge any family members that are joining today- whether in person or via zoom. I acknowledge the families because it is their stories and their truth and their lived experiences that has brought us today where we are with this movement.” She then started a PowerPoint to go along with the remainder of her speech. “…today I’m going to be speaking on this topic from a personal view, because much of my knowledge and my understanding has come from my lived experiences and my family’s lived experiences. The matriarchs in my family have been involved in this movement since the beginning, and they have taught me the importance of having compassion for the many families that are closest to the pain.” She continued. “Our stories hold power, and I believe in humanizing these really difficult topics by sharing those, those very real experiences.”


Woodward went on to share history of the movement. In 1989, the MMIW (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women) movement began in the Downtown Eastside British Columbia, Canada- by a small group of women. It focused on “race-based and gender-based violence” explained Woodward. She began be explaining the neighborhood that the movement was started in. The Downtown Eastside neighborhood population is made up of about 31% indigenous people, and “It’s known for its disproportionately high rates of drug use, homelessness, poverty, crime, mental illness and sex work.” Woodward further explained. “The Downtown Eastside is not just known for its social issues. It’s also known for the resiliency and strong sense of community.” She gave an example of the testimony that she had read of an indigenous man who felt hopeless- so he moved to the Downtown Eastside because he wanted to die, instead “but what he found in that community” …” was acceptance, love and community and most importantly, he found a reason to live. And I think that was a beautiful testament to, to the power of community, even in the most marginalized areas.” She explained.

“So, in 1989, a small demonstration- of five women held signs on the corner of Hastings and Main in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. They did this after the disappearance of women from their community and the murders of women in their community. With media silence, no action, care or concern from police- these women decided to go and look for those that were missing themselves. And these brave matriarchs were the spark that started this movement. And it’s always such an honor to say that my aunt Mona Woodward was one of those five women and I have had the joy and opportunity to hear of these stories.” Woodward explained and displayed a picture of the women holding signs, including her aunt Mona.

“In 1992, after the horrific murder of an indigenous, mother women from the Downtown Eastside organized the first Women’s Memorial March, which is held every year on February 14th. And today thousands take to the streets to honor the missing and murdered across Canada and the United States. If you’ve ever noticed that people wear red, they hang the dresses, they do all the things for awareness on that day as well.” Woodward informed. She enlightened the audience about the length of the movement “So this movement started 30 years ago, and I know that a lot of people think that it is fairly new. 30 years is a long time for all the injustices for indigenous people. That’s a long-time to experience loss in our native communities.”


Next, she moved to MMIWG (Missing and Murdered Indigenous People and Girls.) She began by educating the audience on the Highway of Tears, which is a 725 kilometer (450 mile) stretch of highway in northern British Columbia, with no public transportation until 2017 so hitchhiking was common, and many women and girls (mostly indigenous) have disappeared on this highway. Many of the victims were teenagers and as young as 12 years old. Woodward explained that “adding the G to MMIW was an acknowledgement that they were still children. That they were somebody’s baby. It acknowledges their innocents and that they were a child.”


She moved on to explaining the beginnings of the term MMIWG2S+, which stands for Missing and Murdered Indigenous People, Girls, Two-Spirit, Plus. There was a National Inquiry into MMIWG and 2S+ was added to include “our Two-Spirit LGBQ+ relatives” explained Woodward. She explained “Before Colonization, indigenous nations had a distinct understanding of gender roles and sexuality. That understanding has been heavily disrupted, and so our Two-spirit relatives face a lot of discrimination from main stream society but even from their own native communities. So, adding 2S+ was a choice to not participate in the erasure of those who are marginalized within a marginalized people.”


MMIP stands for Missing and Murdered Indigenous People is fully inclusive, and very common today. MMIP adds men and boys. “We all matter, all of us matter, every mother- whether she is looking for her son or her daughter, her pain- her story matters. Every brother, sister, son and daughter of somebody that is missing- there is no way that we can tell them that they don’t belong here, your grief isn’t a part of this- because it is.” Woodward explained.


MMIR stands for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives and MMIWP stands for Missing and Murdered Women and People.

Honoring Women and Two-Spirited People

“MMIWG2S+ focuses on equality, and undoing the generations of damage caused by heteropatriarchy.” Explained Woodward “Whether in the US or Canada, attacking Indigenous Women was done intentionally through colonization. Women are the backbones of our families. Since 1492, demeaning and sexualizing Indigenous Women has been done in a methodical way. And as an advocate I believe, and from what I have been taught from the matriarchs in my family, that if we return to our traditional beliefs and our traditional practices that honor women as sacred- whether it’s a matriarchal or a patriarchal society- we still honor the women as sacred and that brings us back to that, that equality and balance. And that will help in ending violence in our communities.”

This series will continue for three additional weeks and go over each speech of the symposium in depth, first finishing up with Agnes Woodward’s Speech and then continuing with Dr Cerynn Desjarlais, a panel discussion and finalized with Rep. Ruth Buffalo who is an MHA Member.

Scroll to Top