United to End Violence Against Indigenous Women, Girls

Community Partnerships and Engagement Unit
In August 1994, the body of Sonya Cywink was found at a historical site that was a former First Nation settlement located on Iona Road in the Township of Southwold, Elgin County.

The 31-year-old was last seen alive six days before her body, which bore signs of trauma, was discovered.

No arrests have been made. The Ontario Provincial Policehave issued a $50,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the case.

Cywink is among countless Indigenous women who have been victims of violent crime.

Her sister, Meggie Cywink, continues to honour her memory seeking truth and justice.

“Sonya set the sisterhood bar high,” said Cywink, who was one of the presenters at the Toronto Police’s Anti-Human Trafficking & Ending Violence against Indigenous Women and Girls two-day conference on February 20 and 21. “She was kind, intelligent, gentle and funny and she taught me to love deeply and to forgive others often. I miss her every day.”

A close up of a woman
Meggie Cywink spoke about the loss of her sister Sonya Photo: Ron Fanfair

Cywink said the conference was an important starting point in educating frontline officers about some of the challenges facing the Indigenous community.

“The police are really making an effort to want to change behavior,” she said. “I think they realize that it is a systemic issue. Sometimes the bridge has to break in order to rebuild the bridge.”

The Grandmother Earth Dress, which honours and acknowledges missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and Two-Spirit people, was on display at the conference.The traditional red jingle dress, which was created by the Ontario Native Women's Association, is a sacred item of healing as it gives families the opportunity to visualizetheloved ones in beautiful traditional regalia.

Chief Mark Saunders joined Toronto Police Services Board chair Andy Pringle at the opening ceremony.

“When we talk of the importance and strength of partnerships, this is a classic testimony to that,” Saunders said. “When we discuss topics of human trafficking, the discussion needs to be on the table on a regular basis. When we talk about crimes that involve the human indignity of an individual, there is no greater consequence than that. So having the right people in the room from all centers of the community is vital.”

Pringle acknowledged the conference organizers for preparing a comprehensive agenda that examines the colonization, sexual exploitation and underlying historical root causes that have led to the vulnerability of women and girls in the Indigenous community.

“We know that frontline officers are the most likely first point of contact for victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation,” he said. “Where the victims are First Nations, Metis and/or Inuit, giving officers the foundational education of the history of these people will increase the ability for building trust and respect right from the outset of these investigations.

“Once trust is built with individuals, trust grows, first with their supports and family and continuing to the community at large. This is the way we break down barriers and this is the way we work towards true reconciliation.”

Const. Monica Rutledge, of the Aboriginal Peacekeeping Unit, applied for a grant to stage the conference.

A red dress on a platform
The Grandmother Earth Dress, which honours and acknowledges missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and Two-Spirit people, was on display at the conference. Photo: Handout

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