Sisters in Spirit honour and remember missing and murdered Indigenous women

Sisters in Spirit honour and remember missing and murdered Indigenous women
Sisters in Spirit Vigil brings hundreds together to honour missing and murdered Indigenous women
Every one of them has a story. Every one of them has a name. Hundreds gathered Thursday for the annual Sisters in Spirit Vigil to humanize the 1,200 missing and murdered Indigenous women across Canada.

The young woman was reported missing less than two weeks ago. The same day of the ceremony, Brighteyes she learned her friend’s body was found.

Our greatest hope is that these vigils, along with better supports for women, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, Albertas Taking Action Against Racism plan and resolute efforts at every level of society, will help achieve meaningful action to ensure the safety and security of Indigenous women and girls here in Alberta and across Canada.

“I’m still in shock and I’ve got to hold myself together to honour her memory,” Brighteyes said.

They will come together at candlelight vigils, rallies and community gatherings to honour the lives of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. The Sisters in Spirit vigils bear witness to this national tragedy and offer solace to families and communities that have suffered the devastating loss of so many loved ones.

“She’s going to be on that missing and murdered list. It’s too much. We need to help each other instead of hurting each other.”

Today, across Canada, survivors of violence, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, daughters and sons, grandmothers and grandfathers, friends and community supporters will extend hearts and hands across the chasm of loss in an emotional act of remembrance and resolve.

Stephanie English’s daughter Joey lost her life in 2016. Part of her remains were tossed away like garbage. Her mother is pleading with authorities to find her.

We also passed the Residential Tenancies Amendment Act so that survivors of domestic violence can legally break a residential lease. And weve given survivors of sexual violence better access to the legal system by removing the time limit to bring forward civil claims.

READ MORE: ‘Labour of love’ to map North America’s missing, murdered Indigenous women

“I drive by Peigan Trail and look at that landfill and I know she’s there but I know she’ll come home soon,” English said through tears.

I ask Albertans to join me in taking time to remember these women and girls – cherished sisters, mothers, daughters, granddaughters – and all who seek and mourn for them. In their ever-present memory, let us make the world a safer place.

“I carried that little girl for nine months and I had her for 24 years and she blessed me with three [grand]children and I will keep telling them stories of how beautiful their mother was.”

In the spirit of reconciliation, our government apologized in 2015 for the legacy of residential schools. In May of this year, we apologized to survivors of the Sixties Scoop.

Vigil organizer Chantal Chagnon hopes their collective voice will compel authorities and all levels of government to take action and bring a measure of peace to those suffering.

“Our greatest hope is that these vigils, along with better supports for women, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, Alberta’s Taking Action Against Racism plan and resolute efforts at every level of society, will help achieve meaningful action to ensure the safety and security of Indigenous women and girls here in Alberta and across Canada,” she said.

“We talk not only about statistics, but stories, because of those individual spirits who left their mark — and there’s a big hole left, nothing we can do to bring that life back — and share that story and hope for justice.”

“Being self aware of the issue and not always depending on media or families that have to tell their story, but just recognize that it’s happening and that there’s a role that everybody plays. Visit the Nistawoyou Friendship Centre,” she said. “just loop yourself in.”

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A sacred fire burned near the waterfront in downtown Sault Ste. Marie Thursday evening, as people gathered to remember and honour Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG).

“To see such a healthy mix of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people here in honour of the women missing from here, it’s really encouraging and I hope that it’s like this moving forward and I hope that we build on this moment.”

The vigil, consisting of a ceremony and walk, was held in conjunction with a number of similar Sisters In Spirit vigils taking place across Canada on Oct. 4.

Tuccaro’s remains were found in a field in Leduc in 2012 two years after she went missing. In 2014, her family filed a complaint against the RCMP and the handling of the case, and just last month received the report.

“It seems that our people, our First Nation people – the women and the children – seem to be getting hit the hardest, and there’s a lot of discrimination,” said Barbara Day, who works for Nimkii Naabkawagan Family Crisis Shelter. “Too often these cases happen that our people, mostly young girls, get murdered, and lots of times nothing happens.”

In 2010, the Sisters In Spirit project – coordinated by the Native Women’s Association of Canada – initially confirmed 582 cases of missing and/or murdered Indigenous women and girls over a span of 20 years.

“I want you all to recognize the power that you hold in standing here,” she said. “This is not an Indigenous issue and this is not a women’s issue, this is a human rights issue.”

The RCMP subsequently released its own report in 2013, where it found 1,181 cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls across the country.  

“I think there’s a disconnection between missing and murdered Indigenous women and the rest of the country because oftentimes we’re not empathizing with each other,” she said.

The Government of Canada launched the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in December 2015.

NWAC has been monitoring these inquiry hearings as a third-party observer, and has since issued three report cards on the inquiry process to date.

Members of the Wood Buffalo RCMP were also there to show their support, including Sergeant Elizabeth McDonald, who spoke about that ongoing support in the community.

In its latest 2018 report card, NWAC issued a failing grade to the government-run inquiry for its failure to adhere to timelines, in addition to failing grades for transparency and accountability.

The MMIWG inquiry is just one of the reasons that Day feels compelled to hold ceremonies and events like the Sisters In Spirit vigil.  

As Day clutches her drum and prepares to sing in order to open the vigil, smoke from the sacred fire drifts off into the sunset.

She says that MMIWG is a real issue affecting real people, and that she wants to help bring about social change for future generations by raising awareness of the issues impacting Indigenous people across Canada today.

“Maybe 10 years ago, I thought things were getting better, like in terms of discrimination and systemic racism, but it’s not getting better,” said Day. “So that’s why I think that we have to upstep our awareness and our vigils and doing things in a good way.”