On May 5, Red Dress Day, and every day, CUPE honours missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and Two-Spirit people (MMIWG2S). This year we want to call attention to the organizing efforts to implement a National Red Dress Alert System, that would urgently notify the public when an Indigenous woman, girl or Two-Spirit person goes missing, similar to the current National Amber Alert System for children.

At CUPE’s National Convention in October 2023, CUPE adopted Strategic Directions for 2023-2025 containing a set of commitments toward truth and reconciliation which build upon years of CUPE’s support to organizing efforts by members. Our union’s Strategic Directions advocate for the creation of a Red Dress Alert System.

NDP MP Leah Gazan has championed the creation of a Red Dress Alert System in the House of Commons with co-lead, Liberal MP Pam Damoff. Work began in earnest on this project in December 2023. The House of Commons’ Standing Committee on the Status of Women launched a study looking into the proposal for a Red Dress Alert in March 2024 and the Federal Budget 2024 has committed to providing $1.3 million over three years, starting in 2024-25, toward co-developing a regional Red Dress System with Indigenous partners.

It is important to note that the recommendations of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls were released back in 2019. The Final Report of the Inquiry advocated for a national hotline to report MMIWG2S ­ essentially a National Red Dress Alert System,­ and this is the first tangible funding commitment from the government toward that in 5 years.

Today, we also recognize the organizing efforts of Indigenous activists and CUPE members across the country toward the search of the Prairie Green Landfill in Winnipeg. The remains of an Indigenous woman, Rebecca Contois, were found in the Brady Landfill in June 2022, followed by a call to search both the Brady Landfill and the Prairie Green Landfill for further victims of a serial killer. The remains of two women, Morgan Harris and Marcedes Myran, are believed to be in the Prairie Green Landfill, and the remains of a fourth unidentified woman, who has been given the name Mashkode Bizhiki’ikwe, or Buffalo Woman, are also still missing. Initially, the Manitoba government refused to search the Prairie Green Landfill, and families and many Indigenous people in Winnipeg and across the country began to organize to raise awareness.

In July 2023, CUPE 500, representing municipal staff at the Brady Road Resource Management Facility, sent a letter of support and a joint statement including the landfill and 4R Winnipeg Depot in Winnipeg. The letter provided support to the organizers and families who were calling for the search. Following ongoing substantial organizing efforts throughout 2022 and 2023, the federal government announced a commitment of $20 million in 2024-25 toward efforts to search the landfill, in partnership with the Manitoba government, Indigenous partners, and impacted families. This builds on the $1.2 million provided by Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada to support feasibility and planning assessments.

CUPE will continue to track progress toward not only the search of landfills across the country and a National Red Dress Alert System, but to the implementation of all 231 Calls for Justice from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. We won’t stop organizing until all of us are safe.