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This massive newspaper contains 'cover stories' of hundreds of MMIWG to spur national action

One night in Hinton, Alta., 16-year-old Shelley-Anne Bacsu decided to walk home along Highway 16 from her boyfriend's house.

She was never heard from again.

But 40 years later, her story is part of a new project aiming to honour the thousands of Indigenous women and girls who have been murdered or gone missing in Canada: a newspaper of “cover stories,” which organizers plan to hand deliver to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

On Monday, one day before the National Day of Action for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, those walking by the Ontario legislature at Queen's Park in Toronto came face to face with these women.

More than 100 “missing” posters set up in front of the building showcased those whose stories are rarely amplified.

In the middle of the posters is a newsstand carrying the “4,000 Cover Stories” newspaper compiled by the Native Women's Resource Centre of Toronto (NWRCT).

“It's really to demonstrate the impact of how many women have been missing that we know of,” Pamela Hart, NWRCT executive director, told “So instead of a small section of a 40-page newspaper, you have a 2,000 (page), double-sided newspaper of cover stories of missing and murdered Indigenous women.”

She said that the massive size of the newspaper was to show “how large a newspaper would be if you covered all of these stories with the amount of attention that they deserve.”

Each one of these women's disappearances could be a cover story, she said.

The project is aiming to spur action to protect Indigenous women and girls in Canada. A national inquiry that ran between 2015 and 2019 called the issue a “genocide,” finding that governments and law enforcement have often failed to collect proper data or follow up on cases of missing Indigenous women.

More than 1,000 Indigenous women and girls were killed or went missing between 1980 and 2012, according to the RCMP, but experts believe the true number is closer to 4,000, according to the Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC).

And this violence is ongoing — between 2015 and 2020, the most recent year for this data, Indigenous women accounted for 24 per cent of all female homicide victims in Canada, NWAC reports, despite making up just five per cent of the female population nationally.

Advocates say little has been done to tackle this crisis in the three years since the release of the national inquiry's final report, something that the NWRCT is hoping this project will challenge.

Each page and story within the newspaper will be accompanied by a QR code that, when scanned, will draft a letter to the MP of that specific missing or murdered woman's local riding, calling for action.

“My hope is that folks will learn and that they will follow through with the letter … so that we are slamming MPs and Trudeau with letters that force us to remember that this issue has never gone away,” Hart said.

“The other (goal) is that we honour and show that these women existed and that they deserved a cover page and that they deserve to be spoken about, and that there should have been outrage, there should have been more storytelling, there should have been more coverage.”

Following the demonstration in Queen's Park, the newspaper will be part of activities on Tuesday, which is National Day of Action for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG).

It will be present at the annual Sisters in Spirit Vigil at Allan Gardens in Toronto, where community members gather to honour those who are no longer with them and celebrate their lives, Hart explained.

Afterwards, organizers are planning to deliver the newspaper to Trudeau's doorstep in Ottawa.

“So everybody knows that it's been done and that he has one of the largest levels of responsibility to respond,” Hart said.


The front of the gigantic newspaper declares, “The stories of Canada's Indigenous genocide will no longer go unwritten.” As readers flip through the pages, they will see huge photos of the women and girls in question, each formatted like a newspaper cover page with headlines and dates, and details about their lives and disappearances.

Incomplete data, along with racism and neglect by police forces, means that the exact number of missing or murdered Indigenous women is not fully known, the national inquiry revealed.

“We know that there's so much more untold, we know that there's so much more still happening and we know that there's still so much more that's likely been covered up along the way,” Hart said.

“And if you think about the reality that MMIWG actually stems from first contact, we're actually looking at a number that I don't think that anybody can comprehend or even actually define. And so, through contact, colonization, residential schools and modern day systems, we continue to harm Indigenous women.”

This is acknowledged in the project itself: a page within the newspaper shows only an illustration of a red dress, beside the words “Stolen Sister.”

“On this page we honour one of our many stolen sisters,” the page reads. “Indigenous Women and Girls face a homicide rate that is 12 times higher than any other woman in this country.”

Hart said the idea for the newspaper came from the desire to not only raise awareness, but to show how these stories aren't given enough attention by the media.

“We're not creating the space to honour these women who are, unfortunately, being stolen from us, and often in horrific ways,” she said.

To compile the stories, volunteers with the project sorted through data from the National Inquiry into MMIWG, which began in 2015 and released its final report in 2019.

They also included more recent disappearances that were occurring even as they put the project together.

The stories unearthed during the inquiry — many of which are now echoed within the 4,000 Cover Stories project — come from the direct testimony of nearly 1,500 people, including 468 family members and survivors.

“Obviously reading some of the details and reflecting on it, reflecting on scenarios that impact my family directly, it's very, it's very sad. It's very heartbreaking,” Hart said.

Her family believes that her aunt was murdered, she said, and that the investigation was mishandled.

Although it's painful to reflect on these stories, she also felt a determination to spread awareness and lift up those voices that have been silenced.

“I'm just so fortunate that I work in a space that is so dedicated to reminding women of their sacred power,” she said. “And that helps balance out you know, some of the less easier to manage emotions, and turn it around to do something positive.”

The fragmentary nature of media reporting on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls means the project had to focus on brief details about each case, instead of being able to provide the in-depth framing that is missing from how the media covers these stories, Hart acknowledged.

“For this project, it's more of a point of impact and raising awareness,” she said. “This is starting the conversation of 'how do we capture Indigenous stories?' This newspaper isn't an example of (the ideal framing), but hopefully a catalyst on how we begin that conversation.”


Delivering the newspaper to Trudeau's residential doorstep on the National Day of Action for MMIWG will hopefully send a message, Hart said.

“It's one thing to follow through on the inquest … as a government,” she said. “But again, there has to be continued conversation, continued action. And I think that unfortunately, Trudeau often has enough words to say and not enough action. And as we continue to lose women from the community, we need faster action, because it is a matter of life and death.

“The hope is that when I show up at the door, I can't be ignored.”

The final report of the National Inquiry into MMIWG included 231 calls to justice, which set forth recommendations for how to stop this crisis moving forward.

But this June, advocates pointed out that deaths are still continuing, with the NWAC alleging also that little has been done to address the calls to justice.

The government released a National Action Plan in 2021, directing $2.2 billion over five years to address MMIWG. At the time, NWAC called it “a recipe for inaction.” In the past year, the government says it has supported more than 410 Indigenous language and culture projects from Indigenous groups and that 19 Indigenous organizations have received money for projects and services that support the healing of families and survivors, but it acknowledged there is still work to be done.

“I think that there needs to be further transparency and further communication on the calls to justice,” Hart said. “I think there needs to be more forceful action around the responsibilities of all of the systems and all of the levels of government to enact and to react to the calls of justice.”

She pointed out that there are immediate steps that could be taken to create positions and staffing to address these issues with more urgency, and to “create Indigenous-led efforts and tables.”

“It has to be this in-depth change within our systems that actually gives dignified respect to the humanity of Indigenous women, because when you break it down, we're talking about the humanity of our existence, which has been disregarded since contact.”

It's been 39 years since Shelley-Anne Bacsu vanished while walking home. Her page in the 4,000 Cover Stories project emphasizes that her “personality was larger than life,” that she “lit up every room she walked into.”

Her family still wants answers. Answers that the families of the other missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls are also waiting for.

“Each of them matter equally,” Hart said. “And none of them seem to be spoken about unless it's amongst our own families or our own community. And we continue to do that, we keep the spirit alive, which is why our culture is so rich and so strong. But if we don't continue this conversation on a larger scale, we will continue to lose our women and girls.” Top Stories



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