Six Nations came together to honour their loved ones during the MMIWG2S National Day of Action and Awareness at Veteran’s Park last Thursday.
And guests learned that the global pandemic of the last two years also produced another, less-talked about pandemic: domestic violence.
It’s been referred to as a “shadow pandemic,” said Dr. Vanessa Watts-Powless, an Indigenous studies professor at McMaster University.
“The reasons are not surprising. The pandemic has exacerbated all forms of inequality. The shelter here at Six Nations shows us that frontline workers were essential workers. Frontline workers had to work even harder during the pandemic.”
There was also a focus on losing men and boys to violence.
“The issue of losing men and boys is a big issue here on Six Nations,” said Sandra Montour, director of Ganohkwasra Family Assault Support Services in Ohsweken.
She told guests at the vigil that Ganohkwasra is here to help families in crisis and assist those in domestic violence situations.
The agency has been working to end violence in the community, an issue that recently received a lot of attention after statistics showed a monumental increase in violent crimes in the community during the course of the pandemic.
Candles were lit throughout Veteran’s Park to honour loved ones who were taken too soon by violence.
“To the families that are here today, we not only honour your loved ones that were taken away from you, we also honour you,” said Montour. “And we see you here at Six Nations, We see you walking your journey and we honour you on this painful journey that has been put before you through no fault of your own.”
Dr. Watts-Powless, said she and other staff at McMaster University work to bring awareness to the issue of violence against MMIWG2S.
There are so many non-Indigenous students who don’t know about the issue of violence against Indigenous women, she said.
Gender based violence is inflicted disproportionately among Indigenous and two-spirit women and girls in Canada and it’s intimately linked to settler-colonialism, she said.
“Today, we remember the more than 1,200 missing and murdered Indigenous women that we know of since 1980, all those we lost before them and those who remain unaccounted for.”
The vigil honoured the memory of Aileen Joseph, who was a tireless advocate for MMIWG on behalf of her daughter Shelley, who was murdered in Hamilton, Ont. in 2004.
Aileen passed away in 2021.
“She was soft-spoken and she was a fierce advocate,” said Watts-Powless. “Today, I’m remembering her,” along with MMIWG.
Events like this are so crucial, she said, so that families can continue to find spaces to feel peace and comfort and find people to fight alongside with.
Montour stressed to the community that women are the gateway between the Skyworld and the Earth and they need to be honoured.
“They bear our children which are our most precious resource,” said Montour.
Candles were lit in honour of loved ones lost to violence and placed at the cenotaph at Veteran’s Park.