The root causes of the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls epidemic — and possible solutions — are on the agenda as Manitobans head to New York for a presentation to a United Nations conference.
Sheila North Wilson, grand chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, is one of five people that will speak about the risks facing Indigenous Canadians transitioning from life on a rural reserve to life in an urban environment.
"To be part of this delegation, to share with the world and the UN about that experience is very ... I would say humbling and empowering," North Wilson told CBC News in a phone interview from Toronto's Pearson International Airport.
"It's interesting because I have a lot of personal experience," she added. "But it's an experience that I share with hundreds of other people."
North Wilson and representatives from the University of Winnipeg's Global College, The Institute for International Women's Rights — Manitoba and Ma Mawi Chi Itata Centre Inc. will present "Risks for Canadian Indigenous Women Transitioning to an Urban Environment" at an event running alongside the 61st session of the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations.
The Southern Chiefs Organization will also be represented by Karen Batson, a Brandon University professor who is currently serving as the newly elected chief of the Pine Creek First Nation in western Manitoba.
The theme for the event is "The Empowerment of Indigenous Women," and North Wilson hopes to share with international delegates that it's not just newcomers facing challenges integrating into life in Canadian cities.
"They're going to hear about some of the causes around the issue, around the issues around missing and murdered Indigenous women because this is one of them," North Wilson said. "We're getting lost in the system and the perpetrators are taking advantage of vulnerable women and girls."
Personal for North Wilson
It's also personal for North Wilson, who moved to Winnipeg from Oxford House, Man., a remote community about 580 kilometres north of Winnipeg, to attend high school.
North Wilson said she struggled at first when she moved to Winnipeg and went from being at the top of her class in Oxford House to the bottom of her class in Winnipeg. It goes far beyond the classroom, however.
"I didn't know how to take a bus for the first three rides ... simple things like that," she said. "The revolving doors ... there's actual revolving doors. Those are tricky when you don't know what the heck they are."
"Funny things happen but at the same time bad things happen," she added. "I used to stand on Portage Avenue to try get a ride from one end of town to the other because you could do that on reserve but here it looks like something else."
Part of the presentation will also focus on solutions, such as those in Winnipeg that provide educational and recreational programming for First Nations youth in Winnipeg.
The group will make their presentation on Monday afternoon.