A Grade 11 student in Naujaat organized a march to raise awareness about missing and murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) last week.
“I’m doing this because I’ve seen a lot of Indigenous women and girls go missing, get murdered and face sexual violence and abuse and I want it to stop,” wrote Heather Putulik in a Facebook announcement about the march. “We really need our culture back.”
Despite unseasonably cold weather with heavy winds, 30 to 40 people turned out on May 25 to march in support of MMIWG.
According to her teacher Simon Wake, Putulik arranged the March as part of a year-end project for her social studies class.
“They had to make the plan for something that touches on one of the issues we talked about in class,” said Wake. “Current news was part of the class and Black Lives Matter was a big part of the discussion. Obviously, being in Nunavut we made a connection between that movement and what is happening with Indigenous people in Canada. She was really passionate about that.”
Putulik said she was inspired to organize the march after seeing so many Indigenous people posting about MMIWG on Facebook and TikTok.
“I’ve seen a lot of posts on Facebook about Indigenous women gone missing,” she said.
One of the hardest parts of organizing the march was doing the public promotion, said Putulik.
“The scariest part was going on the radio,” she said. “I posted on Facebook so my friends in the community would know.”
As part of the assignment, students had to go through the process of applying for a grant to support their ideas.
Although they didn’t have to actually submit applications, several of them did, including Putulik, who ended up getting $250 from #RisingYouth, a grants program with funding available for youth-led community projects.
That money ended up going toward materials for the march, including banners. It also helped pay for some country food. Most importantly, it allowed Putulik to hire Elder Elizabeth Haqpi to talk about healing and the history of violence against women.
By the end of the march it was too cold to stay outside, so the talk was rescheduled to be held during a community feast on May 29.
After the march, Putulik arranged for people to gather for a healing activity around a bonfire, where participants wrote about experiences that they want to let go of and threw them into the fire.
“During the bonfire I went to my late grandfather’s graveyard to say thank you to him and I talked him a little bit,” said Putulik.
Wake said he was extremely proud of the effort that Putulik put into organizing the march. She ended up getting a final grade of 99 per cent on her project.
“She really went above and beyond,” he said. “Some other projects were good but not nearly as ambitious or challenging.”
Academics aside, Wake said the march also left a positive mark on the community.
“A lot of people were really moved,” he said. “I saw lots of people posting on social media saying they were happy to see this happening in Naujaat.”