The woman who established Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak’s missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls liaison unit has been recognized with a provincial award for empowering women.
Hilda Anderson-Pryz was one of two recipients of the provincial government’s 2022 Empower Women Awards, which were presented in a ceremony at the Manitoba legislature on Oct. 20.
An activist who has worked for 20 years to prevent gender- and race-based violence against Indigenous girls, women and gender-diverse people, and who was the director of MKO’s MMIWG liaison unit for five years, Anderson-Pyrz said she will keep fighting for change until it happens.
“I’m going to keep going until I can’t do it anymore or until there’s significant changes that have provided opportunities for the safety and security of Indigenous girls and two-spirit and gender-diverse people,” the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation member who now lives in Winnipeg told the Thompson Citizen the day after receiving the award. “I worked with one of our grandmothers and she always makes the statement, which I utilize as well, about when you’re born female, you’re born political because you’re born into inequality. You’re born into injustice and you’re often born into poverty.”
Anderson-Pyrz knew she was one of the nominees but didn’t think she would receive the award until she heard her name being read out.
“I was like, ‘What?’ when they called out my name,” she says.
Though the award went to her, Anderson-Pryz says it really belongs to everyone who has trusted her to help share their stories and seek change on their behalf.
“So many in community trusted me by sharing their journeys and their voices with me and I carried them in my heart and my spirit to places where they could be heard to influence change,” she says.
Despite the progress she’s seen over the decades of her activism, it’s never enough or fast enough.
“We need change to happen at a faster pace because we deserve that safety and that security,” she says.
To be effective and enduring that change needs to be holistic and transformative — “siloed approaches do not work; in fact, they create further harm” — and enshrined in legislation and policy.
“We don’t want to be back to square one with a new government who may not see the lives of Indigenous women and girls and two-spirit and gender-diverse people as a priority,” said Anderson-Pryz.
The youth Empower Award winner also has a Northern Manitoba connection. Brooklyn Rudolph-Nicholas is a 24-year-old Pimicikamak Cree Nation member who grew up in Winnipeg’s north end and advocates for Indigenous rights while working as a professional artist who donates much of her artwork to non-profit organizations like shelters, mental health organizations and women’s centres.
The award winners were announced by Manitoba Families Minister Rochelle Squires.
“The contributions these women have made to Manitoba are outstanding,” she said in a press release. “They are community leaders who are making an impact and creating immense positive changes in their communities.”