Meet the Circle
Hilda Anderson-Pyrz is a member of the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation and is currently Chair of the National Family and Survivors Circle in Canada. For the past 20 years, she has been a tireless advocate and leader to prevent and end gender- and race-based violence against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people
Through her grassroots advocacy work, Hilda has relentlessly spoken truth to power, holding systems and structures accountable in addressing the ongoing genocide of Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people. She has presented at the United Nations and across Canada. It is her firm belief that every member of society has a responsibility — and is part of the solution — in ending all forms of gender-and race-based violence
Hilda is a leader in developing community- and strength-based mechanisms to raise awareness, deliver services, create solutions, and take action rooted in Indigenous ways of knowing and being. She was instrumental in establishing the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc.’s Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) Liaison Unit, where she was the Director for five years. Hilda served as President of the Families First Foundation and as Co-Chair of the Manitoba MMIWG Coalition.
She is the recipient of the 2019 RESOLVE Manitoba Community Award and the Manitoba Honour 150 Award in February 2021, in recognition of her work to raise awareness of gender-based violence.
Hilda’s continued determination to center the voices and expertise of families of MMIWG and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people is guided by her own life experience as an impacted family member and the recognition that Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people are sacred. She is committed to advocating for Indigenous-led solutions using decolonizing, Indigenous and human rights-based, and self-determined approaches.
Denise Pictou Maloney
Denise Pictou Maloney was born in Boston, Massachusetts, USA and moved to Nova Scotia, Canada when she was 9 years old. She is a member of the Sipekne’katik First Nation and was raised just outside of K’jipuktuk (Halifax). She maintains strong familial connections to several Indigenous Communities in Mi’kma’ki. Denise was raised with a strong work ethic based in traditional protocol, ethics, morals, inherent rights and a deep respect for her connection to land and water.
At a young age, Denise and her sister suffered the murder of their mother under tragic circumstances. Before completing university, where she was studying the fields of microbiology, sociology, and psychology, she made the decision to put her education on hold to prioritize and focus on raising her two children while attending multiple trials for her mother’s murder, an ordeal that spanned over ten years.
Denise has campaigned for over 20 years for justice and often speaks publicly about her family’s journey. She is an advocate for inherent Indigenous rights and has spoken on behalf of her mother at the United Nations, academic institutions, and conferences for civil rights and journalism to bring awareness to the injustices of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people.
For the past 15 years, Denise has been employed by the Halifax Regional Center for Education (HRCE), and most recently worked as a Mi’kmaq Indigenous Student Support Worker. She took a two-year leave of absence to work at the national level for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. She is a strong advocate for justice, equity, and change so that one day Indigenous women, girls, and gender-diverse people can reclaim their rightful inherent place to “continue their cycle in this Universe.”
Ann Maje Raider
Ann Maje Raider is a Kaska grandmother and a member of the Wolf clan in the unceded Kaska Territory in the Southeast Yukon. As the former Chief of Liard First Nation — and the first to be democratically elected —Ann has demonstrated over 25 years of service, leadership, and activism, advocating to end violence against Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people.
In 1998, along with a small group of Kaska women, Ann joined the Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society (LAWS). The Society acquired legal standing during the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, and its submission provided recommendations from Yukon women on ending gender- and race-based violence against Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people.
As the Society’s Executive Director, Ann has implemented numerous and innovative social response initiatives related to cultural wellness and social justice. Recently, the Society and the RCMP came together to implement a groundbreaking community safety protocol called “Together for Justice”, which was recognized for Best Practices by the United Nations and earned Ann the Yukon Government Community Safety Award for Outstanding Project in 2016.
Today, Ann co-chairs the Yukon Advisory Committee, which is helping develop the “Changing the Story to Upholding Dignity and Justice: Yukon MMIWG2S+ Strategy”. Her current role as a member of the National Family and Survivors Circle furthers her passion for advocacy, which comes from her lived experience of giving a voice to her sister, who was murdered. Her abilities to engage her community in a consistent path of development and blend traditional and Western therapeutic models of practice have earned her recognition, including the 2017 Governor General Polar Award.
Land defender, activist, artist and master carver, Bernie Williams (Gul-Giit-Jaad), is of St’langng Jaanas/Laanas clan in Haida Gwaii. A long-time resident in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side, Bernie is a passionate advocate and frontline worker rallying against the gender- and race-based violence experienced by Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people. As a survivor and family member, Bernie seeks to empower these groups with the belief that “sovereign women lead to a sovereign nation”.
In 2005, Bernie co-founded Walk4Justice, an organization that marches to create awareness of escalating violence towards Indigenous women and girls. Walk4Justice led seven walks across Canada and three walks over the Highway of Tears, bringing national attention to the Highway of Tears and Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
Walk4Justice eventually led a march to open the first BC symposium into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in 2006. The momentum eventually helped propel the Government of Canada’s decision to create a National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in 2016.
In April of 2018, Bernie testified at the National Inquiry in Richmond. The truths she courageously spoke were included in the National Inquiry’s Final Report, which created 231 Calls for Justice for governments across Canada.
Today, Bernie continues the frontline volunteer work she began over 30 years ago, searching for missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people, and supporting impacted family members and survivors. Bernie’s resilience in the face of resistance, willingness to speak truth to power, and ability to educate have made her a powerful voice for those suffering from gender- and race-based violence and gentrification in her community.
Charlotte Wolfrey (Pottle) was born on the land in the Rigolet area of Nunatsiavut. Strongly rooted in her Inuit heritage, she practices her culture and lives from the animals and plants from her community.
Known regionally and nationally for her advocacy work for the rights of women and children and for speaking against family violence, Charlotte has held a variety of senior management positions in health care and municipal administration, including serving on the Community Council and Labrador Inuit Association.
In addition to being involved in research since the early 1980s, she has served many local, provincial, national and international committees and organizations, including Canadian Inuit Circumpolar Health Society, Atlantic Aboriginal Health Research, and the Provincial Advisory Council on the Status of Women.
In recognition of her decades of service and advocacy, she was named Pauktuutit’s Inuit Woman of the Year in 2011, and became a recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2013. In 2012, Charlotte was selected to be an Honorary Witness for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. For two years, she served on the National Family Advisory Circle, which helped provide recommendations and guidance to the Commissioners of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. After years of speaking out and advocating for Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people, she is hopeful that transformational change will be possible.
Charlotte is now active as a board member of Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada and is also currently serving as AngajukKâk (Mayor) of Rigolet. She is proudest of being a wife, a mother to her four children, a grandmother, and a great grandmother.
Janet Pitsiulaaq Brewster
Janet Pitsiulaaq Brewster, elected in 2019, currently serves as Deputy Mayor for the City of Iqaluit. She is a profound Inuk artist using art as a catalyst for discourse and civic engagement on femicide, trauma and survival.
As an active social political activist and feminist, she works endlessly to better her community and the lives of Inuit. Pitsiulaaq devotes her career to organizing community-engagement projects and northern development initiatives and advocacy for artists, homelessness, and MMIWG2S+.
She is a survivor and crusader for systemic change in policy, legislation, and the criminal justice system to stop gender-based violence against women. Pitsiulaaq has been impacted by the loss of family members, including her aunt Sylvia Ann Lyall, who was murdered in 2003, and her cousin Angela Pitseolak Meyer, who has been missing in Yellowknife since 2010. She testified at the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in 2018.
A mother of three, parent and ningiuq to her aunt’s orphaned son and his daughter, Pitsiulaaq became known throughout Iqaluit for transforming graffiti into positive messages by covering the previous offensive images and statements with words of kindness and support.
Melanie Morrison is a strong Mohawk wife and mother from the Mohawk territory of Kahnawake. For nearly twenty years, she has been an employee of Caisse Populaire Kahnawake. As a conscientious local advocate who thoroughly enjoys working for her community, she is also a member of the Action Team for the Food Sovereignty Group of Kahnawake.
Melanie has been an activist for missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people since 2006, when her sister Tiffany Morrison went missing and whose remains were found in 2010, a murder that remains unsolved to this day. She uses her lived experience to speak at conferences across the country on policing to emphasize the need for systemic changes in the way cases are handled, including the 2016 Justice Practitioners Summit on Missing and Murdered Women and Girls in Canada, and the First Nations Chiefs of Police Association in 2018.
Melanie’s relentless drive and resilience have led her to advocate passionately on behalf of impacted families and survivors. She was a member of the National Family Advisory Circle for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, guiding the Kepec-Quebec supplementary report and the forensic team. In addition, she was the Lead Facilitator for her healing circle’s “Women are Sisters” project in 2019.
Melanie’s years of advocacy work have earned her recognition, including receiving the Amnesty International Ambassador of Conscience Award in 2017, and being featured in the Amnesty International Francophone “Writes for Rights” campaign in 2018. Now, as a member of the National Family and Survivors Circle, Melanie hopes her work will engender changes that ensure no other family has to go through what hers did.
In September 2007, Myrna’s Aunt, Emily Osmond, age 78, disappeared from her rural residence near Raymore, SK. After years of intense searching, Emily Osmond currently remains missing. This disappearance led Myrna on many years of activism, awareness, and advocacy of missing & murdered Indigenous women, girls & 2SLGBTQQIA+ people (MMIWG2S+). She first participated on MMIWG2S+ activism in 1996, by supporting an Indigenous family whose daughter was murdered. During 2017 – 2019, she sat on the National Family Advisory Circle (NFAC), a group of MMIWG2S+ families from across Canada that provided guidance to the Commissioners during the National Inquiry.
She has been an activist on many issues and topics related to Indigenous peoples and marginalized groups since the mid-1970s, and has participated with numerous community and agency boards and groups over the years. Myrna is Co-chair of Iskwewuk E-wichiwitochik (Women Walking Together), the Saskatoon-based volunteer support group for missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and gender-diverse persons.
In 2011, the LaPlante and Wolfe families faced another family crisis when 17-year-old nephew, Cody Ridge Wolfe, went missing at Muskowekwan First Nation, Lestock, SK. Sadly, Cody was located deceased in May 2020.
Using these lived experiences and her innate strength, Myrna continues to volunteer and do part-time work for MMIWG2S+ activities, community and special events. She offers her search coordination skills, project management and support as required.
Myrna is a member of the Day Star First Nation, Touchwood Agency Tribal Council, Treaty 4 and resides in Saskatoon. She completed a 30-year career in adult education and aboriginal employment development. Myrna has one daughter and three beautiful grandchildren.
Tanya Debassige is Ojibwe and Odawa from Mnidoo Mnising, Manitoulin Island. She was born and raised on her Anishinabek traditional territory within the Robison Huron Treaty, and is the mother of two amazing grown children and a proud grandmother. As the granddaughter of a residential school survivor and having attended an Indian Day School in her formative years of her life, she has learned resilience, patience and tenacity.
As an impacted family member, and an impacted community member who has witnessed the results of systemic racism and violence, Tanya uses her lived experience to advocate for families of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people, and survivors of gender- and race-based violence. After finding challenges in accessing resources, she now helps impacted families and survivors navigate provincial, federal, and First Nations programs.
Tanya ensures her advocacy and teaching is rooted in Indigenous ways of knowing, which she credits to her parents. Her father, Adam Debassige, instilled in Tanya the importance of education, and now, despite overcoming learning disabilities, Tanya holds two degrees. As a key part of her family’s healing, Tanya’s mother, Lorraine, is a firm believer in language in ceremony after overcoming the mentality of needing to hide her cultural practices. These values have allowed Tanya to be a better advocate and a better educator in providing information to other families and survivors.
Now, as a member of the National Family and Survivors Circle, Tanya is a solutions-focused change agent educating the world that Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people are sacred. Her fervent hope is that the 231 Calls for Justice from the National Inquiry’s Final Report are implemented, and that every Canadian understands their responsibility in ending gender- and race-based violence.