SIX NATIONS – Approximately 80 community members gathered to honour Onkwehon:we women with a candle light vigil and feast on Sunday evening at Six Nations Veterans Park. Organizers Eileen Joseph and Jen Mt. Pleasant hosted many speakers, all with something valuable, heart-felt and passionate to say.
Robin Bourgeois, having worked with MMIW issues for several years, echoed the frustration many have felt when dealing with the Canadian government, hitting home that in actuality this issue is caused by and affects all peoples on Turtle Island. “I’m getting sick and tired of begging for assistance from a government that is not my own, and all I get are excuses. Harper is turning a blind eye, claiming this issue is caused by crime rates, not by historical, sociological, systemic issues. This is not just an Indigenous problem, it is everyone’s problem. ”
Bev Jacobs, a lawyer from Six Nations, also spoke about frustrations when dealing with Canadian politicians ignorant of Onkwehonwe experiences. “These people in positions of power have no idea about us, our history, what we’ve been through, but they make decisions about us. It was sickening to find out these politicians and policy makers do not feel a personal responsibility to know us.” She explained to the crowd that she was basically teaching “Indigenous politics 101” to those on Parliament Hill, and finished her speech by stressing how hard it is to talk about rape, murder and aggression against Onkwehon:we women. “It’s hard to talk about the violence, but we have to talk about it in order to deal with it, fix it, and feel safe. We have a lot of work to do as a community and individually. We need to feel that unconditional love, to show it, and act it.”
Lester Green, from the Men’s Fire, also offered a few words, noting the recent highway shutdown to be a minor amount of time in comparison to the continuous grief Onkwehon:we families must endure when they have lost a loved one to such atrocious violence. “The speaker before me was right, she’s getting sick and tired, and so are we. 36 hours is nothing compared to having to relive that trauma everyday. We have to remember why we are here and to love each other.”
Jamie Jamieson was also asked to speak; she noted that her political involvement with Onkwehon:we issues began over 10 years ago when one of her family members was murdered. She mentioned the growing #AMINEXT? online campaign, and conveyed this message: “We refuse to be next. We have a right to exist, and it is our responsibility to protect that right.”
Lance Logan-keye, an Onkwehon:we man from Six Nations, touched upon men’s responsibilities and role in this issue. “As men, part of our responsibility is to make a safe space for women. A lot of that opportunity was taken away from our men because of the way the system works. A lot of men have not been able to take that responsibility; it’s time to prop up these men too. Part of that idea of being a real man is not the mainstream idea that has been imposed upon us. One thing I’ve found is that men don’t know how to talk to each other about feelings. We need to learn how to do that again; talk to each other about feeling sad, etc. And help each other sort through problems. The biggest thing I wanna hit home is that though the title is ‘Sisters In Spirit’, its not just the women who are going through this, its the men too, because those women are our mothers, daughters, sisters, aunties…”
After beautiful, inspiring, blunt and honest words were shared between the speakers and the crowd, Bev Jacobs honoured the vigil by singing the ‘Strong Women Song’ and the ‘Women Warrior Song’. The people then observed a moment of silence while holding lights to honour the murdered and missing Indigenous women. Cam Staats offered a closing prayer. Corn soup, veggie soup, chili, buns, and coffee were a nourishing and warming closing to a beautiful vigil.