Meet the broadcaster helping MMIW families find answers

Lisa Meeches, the host of a devastating new TV show about Canada’s missing and murdered indigenous women, asks viewers to call in with tips.

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Photo, Thomas Fricke. Hair and makeup, Angie Lindsay.

Coming from a long line of Ojibwa healers, Lisa Meeches knew studying broadcasting at university would upset her grandfather, who wanted her to follow in his footsteps. But television was her passion, and she began her career as a producer at a CBC TV affiliate in Brandon, Man., the first indigenous hire at the station. After seeing ratings success with lifestyle segments about Canada’s indigenous peoples, the station gave her her own show called The Sharing Circle. In its 16 seasons, she’s covered everything from treaty renegotiations to successful business people to musical icons, highlighting the strength of indigenous culture.

“No one was telling these stories. When my grandfather saw what I was doing, he said, ‘You’re helping heal the hearts and spirits of our people.’ He sanctioned it, which was a big relief.”

Now she’s turned her attention to missing and murdered indigenous women, hosting a new series called Taken, an America’s Most Wanted–style documentary series. Launched on the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network this past fall and coming to CBC early this summer, the series seeks to humanize victims and encourages viewers to call in tips to the RCMP. Interviewing family and friends of the missing women, along with police and witnesses, Meeches tries to build a full picture of a woman’s life before her disappearance and walks viewers through the police investigation.

She doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities — some of the women were addicts and prostitutes — but she unpacks the underlying issues that led them there and showcases the positive and lasting effect each had on the families and community they left behind.

Meeches conceived of the show five years ago, after reading a statistic that sent her into a panic: By the time most indigenous women turn 18, they will have suffered with addiction or been abused or murdered. She was pregnant at the time and thought, “What am I bringing my daughter into?”

She put a pitch together then, but there wasn’t any interest at the time. It wasn’t until 2014, when the body of Tina Fontaine — a 14-year-old girl who was discovered in Winnipeg’s Red River — sparked a national conversation about murdered and missing indigenous women, that broadcasters started paying attention. Meeches’ tenacity has paid off: The show’s second season is already in production, she’s received funding to begin work on a version about men and, most importantly, tips have begun rolling in. There’s even a waiting list of families hoping to get their loved ones featured. “It’s about building awareness,” she says. “The more people are able to connect with these women, the more conversations will happen about how to prevent their murders from happening.”

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