Standing in her ribbon skirt outside of Fort McMurray, Alta’s, courthouse, Joy Flett holds a sign with her childhood friend’s photo and name on it. Tears slide down her cheeks as she gazes into the sea of Indigenous women holding similar signs. 

They’re gathered to demand justice for Sherri Flett, a member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, who went missing on January 12, 2022. Her body was found less than two weeks later. Her accused killer was taken into custody. 

Outside the red brick courthouse, the women chant, sing and pray for justice, the issue of murdered, missing and exploited Indigenous peoples (MMEIP).

MMEIP is a new acronym used for murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG). Joy explains the name change was made because “our women and girls are important, but our men and two-spirit people are important too. We all matter to somebody.”

A group of women holding signs.
Joy Flett, second from the right, stands in front of the Fort McMurray courthouse demanding justice for her friend Sherri and all other Murdered, Missing and Exploited Indigenous people.

Joy, an advisor with Suncor’s Indigenous and Community Relations team in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, helped search for Sherri when she was reported missing.

“We weren’t related, but Sherri and I grew up together. We lived down the street from each other, went to the same school and were even roommates in college,” explains Joy. “She was 43 years-old and leaves behind a little girl.”

In addition to Sherri, Joy can easily list the names of several other Indigenous people she knows who have either gone missing or have been murdered. Including her son’s father.

“It’s been a rough road. After 20 years, his murderer is still walking around free,” says Joy. “My reasons to keep going are my son and the two beautiful granddaughters he’s given me. I rely on the strength of my ancestors.”

Joy was part of a session on MMEIP hosted by Suncor’s Indigenous employee network to help raise awareness of the National Day of Awareness for MMIWG on May 5 and the Moose Hide Campaign Day on May 12.

Both movements focus on the many Indigenous people who are victims of systemic discrimination, violence, Indigenous rights violations and crime.
“We want our women, girls, men and two spirit people to stop going missing and experiencing violence.”

Canada’s National Inquiry into MMIWG released its final report, Reclaiming Power and Place, in 2019. Within it are the testimonies of 1,484 family members and survivors and 231 Calls for Justice. The report paints a staggering picture of the extent of the abuse and violence Indigenous people, particularly women, children and two spirited people, experience in Canada. 

For Joy, the report lends credence to the voices of the women rallying for Sherri, “We can finally say ‘we have a voice, and we aren’t afraid to use it.’ For far too long we’ve been silenced, shut down and told that we didn’t matter or have value. But over time, we’ve taken our power back—something that was stripped from Indigenous women.”

“I’m not afraid to speak the truth."