Sisters in Spirit Vigils and Walks
Honouring the Memory of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls
Each year since 2006, vigils have been held across Canada on October 4 to honour the memory of the more than 4,000 missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls and to demand justice and action to end the violence. This year the Native Women’s Association of Canada held its national vigil online while local walks and vigils took place in a number of cities.
The disappearances and deaths of Indigenous women and girls are part of ongoing treatment of Indigenous peoples on a racist and colonial basis which considers them to be a nuisance for whom no accounts need be rendered. The problem “isn’t really high on our radar” as former Prime Minister Stephen Harper infamously put it when he was in office, while the actions of the current federal government are similarly based on colonial considerations. Police and authorities often dismiss cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls as suicides or runaways “not wanting to be found” while no action is taken on living conditions on reserves or the conditions of life in the urban centres.
The ongoing trauma is enormous. It was eloquently expressed by Bethany Stewart, a survivor of the “Millennial Scoop,” which refers to Indigenous children taken away from their communities and put into foster homes where identity loss is a foregone conclusion. Bethany spoke of her experience at a vigil of families of Sisters in Spirit held in Vincent Massey Park, on Algonquin Territory in Ottawa. She was separated from her Cree family and culture when she was scooped into the foster care system. She finally managed to reconnect with her family at the age of twelve under tragic circumstances: the trial of her mother’s murderer, held in Ottawa in 2010.
The pain of having lost her mother was compounded by the media which depicts Indigenous women in a racist manner and dishonours them. Her family had been forced to attend St. Anne’s Indian Residential School in Fort Albany in northern Ontario, notoriously brutal in terms of the sexual and physical abuse of children. She said that had her mother not been through such trauma, including having some of her children taken away from her, life would have been different and her mother would still be alive today.
A sacred fire and three candles were lit at Vincent Massey Park to honour missing and murdered women, girls and Two-Spirit people, residential school survivors and their families and children, as well as Sixties and Millennial Scoop survivors.
Similar ceremonies honouring the lives of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and Two-Spirit people took place right across Canada, from coast to coast to coast. The legacy of residential schools and how it lives on for the survivors and their children was felt profoundly. The failures of government authorities to be accountable and take responsibility for the crimes committed were roundly condemned. To this day, every day, an Indigenous woman, girl or boy goes missing or is killed. The system which is constituted to perpetuate this state of affairs must be replaced with a system which affirms the rights of all and is accountable, upholds hereditary rights and establishes genuine nation-to-nation relations.
The photos below are from Sisters in Spirit vigils held in Ottawa, Hamilton, Windsor, Calgary, Lethbridge and Vancouver.
(Photos: RU, BWSS, Alpha House, PBI, Awo Taan Healing Lodge Society D. Day.)