Jackie Traverse, left, with niece Shanastene McLeod (CBC)
By Jillian Taylor | CBC News
Indigenous community using culture to draw women back to their roots and out of trouble.
Too often we are drumming for our women after they are gone. That is what Shanastene McLeod’s mom and auntie said to me while they were going house to house in the North End looking for her.
They’re scared she will end up on the list of missing and murdered indigenous women. Shanastene is 25. Her family says she is addicted to drugs and she bounces between “crack shacks” and doesn’t come home. They’re scared she’s being sexually exploited.
Up to 100 people at times gathered outside homes where they believed Shanastene McLeod was staying, trying to get her to come out. (Jillian Taylor/CBC)
Out of desperation the family did something remarkable. They put a call out to the community to bring their drums and call Shanastene home with traditional music.
I’ve never seen anything like this before. There were close to 100 people gathered outside of a home they thought she was in. Dozens of drums. Women in long skirts. The smell of sage and sweetgrass in the air.
It was ceremonial. Then the singing started. I was standing with Calvin Alexander who helps out with Drag The Red. He had tears in his eyes.
It’s about time, he said. “This is the way to do it. Approaching these people, by sticking together. This is safety.”
He was talking about the drug dealers and gangs in the community.
People walked through Winnipeg’s North End Tuesday night, looking for Shanastene McLeod. (Jillian Taylor/CBC)
I asked him how he felt seeing this one of a kind gathering. “Emotional,” he said. “I feel the drums. I feel the pain.”
I had to agree with him. Every drum beat was running through my body. The women kneeling around the big drum were singing the strong woman song. Strength was definitely in the air.
“The community is strong, stronger than these drug dealers,” yelled McLeod’s father David Beauchamp.
He told me he lived that life, but it’s in his past. A past he wants to use to set an example and clean up the neighbourhood. He said he wants a better future for his grandchildren, Shanastene’s kids.
The group was intense. Men stood guard around the women like warriors. Modern day warriors, in their ball caps and hoodies.
As the women sang, the men went to the door. Inside, was a crying woman. They tried to get her to come outside, but she wouldn’t.
People concerned that Shanastene McLeod, 25, would end up on the list of missing and murdered indigenous women went to three homes before finding her. She came out of the house, but refused to leave it. (Jillian Taylor/CBC)
It wasn’t Shanastene.
But she gave another address of where she might be. The group started walking. Drums beating.
Again, they circled another house. Singing, drumming and hoping Shanastene was inside.
No luck. But another lead. On to the third address.
This time we walked about 10 blocks. As the music approached, people emerged from their homes. It was hard to ignore the group chanting ‘No More Stolen Sisters.’
Curious. Proud. That is how I would describe the onlookers. The drum just does something to us indigenous people.
It calms us and gives us strength.
That night everyone was marching to the beat of the same drum.
The community took an issue into their own hands. Their presence was a message to drug dealers, gangs – leave our women alone.
They tried to be peaceful, but yes things got heated.
Two women kicked in the first door. People were yelling at others in the homes, yelling at police.
Jackie Traverse, left, tries to persuade Shanastene McLeod to leave the place where she’s been staying, for her own sake. McLeod told them she was staying. (Jillian Taylor/CBC)
Frustration bubbled over. I guess that’s what happens when there are 1,200 missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada.
This community has clearly hit their breaking point.
Sending a message
You know what, their strategy worked. Shanastene was in the neighbourhood and she came outside.
Jackie Traverse wrapped her arms around her and scolded her in a loving auntie kind of way. She told her she was loved and she had to check in with her family more often.
Shanastene was crying. Resistant at first. But eventually smiled. Jackie tried her best to get her to come home, but she wouldn’t. So she grabbed my notepad and wrote down her number for her niece. I asked her what she thought of everyone there. She said it was nice, but didn’t look impressed. Then had a smoke with her family.
It was almost the outcome they wanted. Bittersweet. She came to them. But she didn’t leave with them.
The whole point of the night was to send a message to any woman or girl, in any one of those homes, who may be sexually exploited, addicted, or worse – that the community cares. People are there for them.
I saw a community sick of violence, sick of addiction, sick of losing its women. I also saw a new spirit, a new attitude, and a lot of new faces in the crowd.
This may not solve problems, but maybe it will save someone.
I think what it will do, is unite a community who no longer wants to be seen as broken.
About The Author
Jillian Taylor CBC Reporter
CBC reporter Jillian Taylor covers the aboriginal beat in Manitoba. She began her reporting career at APTN, went on to CTV, and has been working at CBC for two years. She is from Fisher River Cree Nation. @JillianLTaylor