Several hundred members of Winnipeg’s aboriginal community held a massive street dance at the intersection of Portage and Main to welcome James Anaya, the United Nation’s Special Rapporteur on the Rights on Indigenous Peoples on Saturday.

Dance organizers wanted to use the occasion to bring attention to the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls.

"I hope that Mr. Anaya sees the power of our people, the passion we have for our culture, the strength of our women and that he lets the world know who we are," said Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Derek Nepinak.

The event started at 10:00 a.m. with the Jingle Dress Healing Dance. The sounds of singing and drumming filled the intersection as women danced wearing brightly coloured dresses adorned with medal ornaments.

Anaya is in the Winnipeg to meet with aboriginal leaders from across the province before heading north to visit the remote First Nation community of Pukatawagan. He’s on a nine-day tour across Canada to examine the human rights situation and living conditions of aboriginal people in this country.

"I'm looking, first of all, to raise awareness about the issues of concern to aboriginal people, and then to the extent possible, contribute to concrete steps to addressing those issues," said Anaya.  

Anaya heard that, although there are 511 documented cases of missing and murdered and aboriginal women in Canada, advocates say there are many more.

"It needs to be on the priority list,” said Jo Seenie Redsky. “How can anyone imagine how woman can disappear, never to be found?"

University student Jeremy McKay told Anaya that the quality of education offered on-reserve lags behind the provincial education system. "Everyone knows that, to be in university, you need a higher level of the sciences and the maths, and that's not something we enjoy on the reserve."

Nepinak hopes Anaya's report will touch on the resilience of First Nations people in Canada. "We're doing our best to break through,” he said. “We're standing strong. We're coming together and we're going to do it. We're strong people."

A preliminary version of the special rapporteur’s report will be shown to the Canadian government for comments and consideration before a final version is presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

- With a report by Ben Miljure