The Thunder Bay Police outnumbered the group of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) family members and supporters on the day of April 6th, 2013 in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

Two dozen women, men and children gathered in front of the Thunder Bay Police headquarters to let them know that there are many people from across the country that do care about the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women.  

One woman who was brutally raped and beaten on December 27th, 2012 in Thunder Bay, was told she was being attacked because of the Idle No More movement, as told by her attackers, during her ordeal, “You deserve to lose your treaty rights.” It was because of this particular story, and others like it, that I had decided to go and lend my voice in support of finding real answers to the Canadian epidemic of MMIW in Thunder Bay that day.  

Supporters travelled in from Winnipeg, Toronto, Hamilton and Kenora. I travelled from Winnipeg with eight other people to be there, including families affected by MMIW in Manitoba.  Just shortly after Noon, our group met up with the supporters from Ontario and walked peacefully to the front doors of Thunder Bay Police headquarters. A Winnipeg mother, who brought along her seven month old baby, led us as she sang a song while playing a hand drum. The day was cold, wet and cloudy but we marched on, holding signs. Some of us prayed as we walked.

As we marched toward the police station it became startling to see the overwhelming presence of police, their vehicles and police tape surrounding the entire building. The building had three entrances and contained a check point by police for anyone who pulled up to them.  One officer got out of a car and began to distribute a map outlining where we could and could not go. They basically wanted us to stay on the street and away from the police headquarters. 

 Before any of us supporters arrived in Thunder Bay, we were warned to be mindful of the intimidation tactics that the Thunder Bay police might use. We certainly got a glimpse of this as we gathered on that day.

I mysteriously received three messages to contact the Thunder Bay police officials a few days before the “Operation Thunderbird” rally asking me for specific information. They made contact with me at my place of employment. The police requested names of the organizers and the number of expected ‘protesters’; it was not my place, however, to reveal the logistics of the event because I was a guest myself.

I can now share that the event was organized with support from the international group called Anonymous, a collective activists from all over the world who seek to expose the truths and lies about anything and everything that negatively impacts society. At this particular event, Anonymous wanted others to know how they felt about the Thunder Bay police’s lack of ability to solve the case of this woman who was attacked late last year. 

A few minutes after we converged on the front doors of the police headquarters, a young woman without a jacket or socks came running out of the building with another woman following behind her. This woman looked distraught and seemed like she wanted to talk to us but the woman who was with her and an approaching police officer stopped her. She was re-directed back inside.  Several minutes later, we saw an officer walk to a paddy wagon which was parked nearby and walk back to the building with an armful of purses. He had clearly displayed six purses and backpack lined up on his right arm. We wondered if the police where trying to intimidate us or simply sending a message that they had six women in custody. A local reporter later told us she overheard the distraught women telling police, “I want to tell them that I think I was raped last night.”

Despite these odd occurrences we carried on with our rally, hoping the local journalists would find out what the two incidents were all about and also to find out why the entire police force felt like they had to shield the building for the hour-long peaceful rally.

We sang songs, danced and shared stories. Not one person spoke ill of the police as we directed some words to the police officers who were present, asking them to do more to protect our Indigenous families in the area. They were simple requests for more protection for our people, which is basically what all of us ask of a police force in Canada.

Perhaps the most startling point about the peaceful rally, however, was that no local people joined us. It was said that some had shown up but were turned away at the checkpoints. Members of Anonymous spoke to a few local people the day before the rally and were told that many in Thunder Bay are too afraid to speak out against the injustices that they see and fear they will be targets of attacks next.

The trip was long and the rally was short, but my memory of the event will last a lifetime. It is my hope that the Indigenous people of Thunder Bay who feel hurt or disadvantaged will find their voice and know that there are others in this country and in the United States who are willing to support them when they do decide to speak out against the abuse and attacks. 

I also hope the police officers who where there received our message and begin to consider finding new ways to work with the Indigenous community in order to gain their trust and start protecting them as vigorously as they protected their headquarters on that day.


RTNDA Award Winner and Gemini Award Nominee, Sheila North Wilson is a natural born story teller. Many of the stories she told as a journalist were of personal hardships and victories. As the Chief Communications Officer for the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and Grand Chief Derek Nepinak, Sheila continues to work toward raising awareness on the national tragedy of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. Sheila’s primary role at AMC is to work with Grand Chief Nepinak and other First Nations leaders in Manitoba, by continuing to build bridges of understanding between First Nations and non-First Nations people through media relations and other forms of communication.