OHSWEKEN – In honour of the lives of missing Indigenous women across Canada, the Sisters in Spirit Vigil and Potluck was held in Veterans Park on Sunday, October 4.
Chief Ava Hill emceed the event, saying “it is important for our communities to acknowledge this national tragedy.”
“We are here today to ensure that the lives of the daughters, mothers, and sisters we’ve lost to violence are honoured and remembered,” she said.
The night showcased speakers (including family members of some of the women lost in the Six Nations community), a candlelit vigil walk, a video incorporating words from Chasidy Martin, Norma General, Aileen Joseph, Chief Ava Hill and Executive Director from Ganohkwasra Sandra Montour, and a potluck for supporters. Elizabeth “Betts” Doxtator gave “Honour Our Sisters” posters to supporters, and Crystal Bomberry sang for the vigil walkers.
At the edge of the park — hung elegantly on the Veterans Park sign — was a knitted red dress. Sandra Montour explained that the dress was a symbol of another campaign known as the Red Dress Campaign.
“The campaign was actually created by an artist. An aboriginal artist, Jamie Black, and it is to raise awareness for the murdered and missing indigenous women across Canada. So if you see a red dress hanging during this week, that is what it will represent,” explained Montour, mentioning just how widespread awareness of murdered and missing indigenous women has become.
“It’s been such a terrible loss that there has been so many women, over 1200 cases of murdered and missing women across the territory. There’s a lot more than that, we know that,” said Montour, as she mentioned the children that did not get a chance to be born, and the children lost to residential schools. “It has been an honour working with these families,” she said, in regards to grieved family members Chasidy Martin, Aileen Joseph and Norma General. “I don’t know their loss the way they know their loss, but I have such love and compassion for each of them, and each of our community members that goes through that loss,” she said.
“I can’t help but also think about the reaction across the world to the 276 girls in Nigeria, they said they were ‘stolen girls,’ and we [saw] the reaction. And yes, that was very sad and as I was listening and watching the world and the reaction to that, I couldn’t help but think ‘what about our women, what about our women who have been lost, and what about those stolen dreams and those stolen lives?’ We have so many,” she said.
“I know that Canada, again, was giving resources to that country to bring those girls home, and yes they deserve to come home and they should come home. But so should our girls come home, so should our women come home, and so should our children have their mothers, and their sisters and their granddaughters,” she said.
Mark Laferriere, NDP Candidate for Brantford-Brant, agreed with Montour saying “we know it’s higher” in regards to the number of murdered and missing indigenous women.
“The indigenous population in Canada is the same [as the population] in New Brunswick. If 1200 women and girls went missing in New Brunswick, I think there would be an inquiry. Do you not think there would be military there, that police services would be pushed, and that there would be tons of money for healing for the families, for everyone? And we can’t get an inquiry in Canada,” said Laferriere.
“I fully support an inquiry; for years Sherry Louis has had me speak at Sisters in Spirit Vigils and at Sisters in Spirit events to talk about how important it is to get an inquiry. But, if we get an inquiry, we also need to have action. Because an inquiry is just one thing and an inquiry without action is kind of like an apology without action,” said Laferriere. “We can move together, we can walk together on this and we can be allies, but if we can’t be allies on this then I don’t know what else we could be allies on because this is so important and it is so vital,” he said.
The entire event was filled with emotions of both sadness and sorrow, as well triumph and determination to honour the lives of murdered and missing indigenous women.