It’s a sunny fall day, but unmistakably the winter weaves its way through the wind. The sun is reflected in tiny little sparkles off the muddy Red River in Winnipeg, Manitoba. With this serene view in the distance, a mass of oak leaves under my feet, I am waiting for a group of searchers to arrive.

The land that surrounds this body of water has deep history rooted in Anishinaabe, Cree, Métis, and Dakota cultures, stories, and movements over thousands of years. Just like my Gitxsan people and the S̄kw̄xwú7mesh I grew close to, the Indigenous people of this land used the lakes and rivers as highways to travel for hunting and fishing, ceremony and feasting. The prairie territory I am standing on was abundant with great herds of buffalo; the boreal forest also provided shelter, water, wood, fish, and meat. And like other Indigenous lands, the land the Red River flows through is thick with a colonial history and rife with rebellion and battles that are spoken keenly of today. Just like my Gitxsan people in our lands, the Anishinaabe, the Cree, the Métis, and the Dakota are still here, rich in culture and resistance.

It was a foreign land to me, far from the mountains and the ocean, the salmon, and the teachings I grew up with. Still, I was back where I first found out I’d be a mom, where I’d shift from a transient young adult to someone who was on an unmistakable trajectory: to tell stories of Indigenous people with all the care and love they deserved. That new path meshed inextricably with motherhood as I strived to share with my little boy that we as Indigenous people matter, that Indigenous women like his mom are loved, and that we will never give up.

There in Winnipeg, in late 2015, I met some of the most creative, determined, and unwavering family members of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG). One of them was an Anishinaabe and Métis woman named Bernadette Smith, who, disillusioned by police efforts to find her sister and horrified when the body of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine was pulled out of the Red River, took matters into her own hands. In hopes of finding justice for her own family and others who were devastated by not knowing what happened to their loved ones, she co-founded Drag the Red, a group that coordinates volunteers searching the Red River for the remains of missing people.

Read the full article about the strength of Indigenous women by Angela Sterritt at YES! Magazine.