Dozens of Indigenous women stood silent in downtown London, Ontario Monday to raise awareness about the impact human trafficking is having on their community.
The demonstration outside of Atlohsa Family Healing Services at 343 Richmond St. saw the front of the building lined with roughly 50 women and a dozen men, all wearing red shirts, some with war paint on their faces, others with a red hand print over their mouth.
“Indigenous females account for 4 per cent of the Canadian population, but 50 per cent of those who are trafficked here in Canada are Indigenous females. When you look at that four per cent vs that 50 per cent overall that is a problem,” said Elyssa Rose, Atlohsa’s anti-human trafficking coordinator. “I work within 150 km in the communities surrounding London, from Six Nations to Kettle Point, and I’m learning that this is an issue and it is very real. I am constantly meeting survivors or those with lived experience and I want people to know it is an issue.”
Rose explained the hand print represents Indigenous women and girls, two spirit, and men and boys who have been taken or murdered.
“They aren’t able to speak, they aren’t able to use their voice. So we stood here in silence to raise awareness of that,” said Rose.
Inside the building, the agency has set-up an art installation in honour of missing and murdered Indigenous woman and girls. Called “See Me” the installation includes hanging scrolls with all of the names of the missing Indigenous women from across the country, hundreds of gold painted paper birds are on the walls to represent victims, and in the back a table lined with candles is filled with framed photos of the women who have been taken.
Atlohsa’s anti-human trafficking program, Okaadenige, teaches at risk and vulnerable women what signs and indicators to watch for to protect themselves against traffickers. Within local schools, program officials teach Indigenous children about healthy relationships, self worth, and online safety.
“We also have a closed, private survivors circle for anybody who is a survivor of human trafficking,” said Rose.