Sisters in Spirit Vigil illuminates national tragedy
Tim Brody - Associate Editor
Sioux Lookout and area residents joined people across Canada to honour the lives of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls at the Sisters in Spirit Vigil held October 4.
Participants gathered at the OPP station, then walked through town carrying lit candles and a banner proclaiming the day.
Afterward they met at the Nishnawbe-Gamik Friendship Centre where refreshments were provided and a moment of silence was observed.
Pictures of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls lay upon tables organized in a circle.
Participants read out the names of these women and shared their stories.
“Families will never get to say goodbye to sisters, aunts, to their mothers, grandmothers, and this is what we can do to keep this awareness going,” stated Sunset Women’s Aboriginal Circle care worker Kim Murphy.
Referring to the photos of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, she posed, “Some people say it’s such a simple thing to remember. Is it? It’s not simple. Is it simple to look at and not know what happened to her? …This continues to happen on a daily basis and there is only so much that is being done.”
“Change must take place and this is our mission tonight, to not allow this endeavor to fade. We celebrate these women’s lives that we see in front of us and let the community know we will not forget their faces,” she added.
“It affects me because I am an Aboriginal woman and I have many granddaughters and I worry about them all the time,” Romaine Lyon shared.
She hopes raising awareness surrounding missing and murdered Indigenous women will help keep people safe.
Lyon, a traditional teacher, offered a prayer to begin the evening.
“What I prayed about was for the families who have lost someone, through being murdered or through being missing, ones that have never been found. I felt it was very important because the families they have left behind are hurting. I prayed they can find some comfort knowing what we’re doing with this walk.”
“It affects everybody, the whole community. I’m very happy that we’re doing this all across Canada,” she shared.
Family Information Liaison Unit (FILU) worker Shauna Pitawanakwat spoke about her program, based at Equay-Wuk (Women’s Group) office at 16 Fourth Avenue.
She explained the program is part of the Indigenous Justice Division within the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General.
“Our role is to help families of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls, however that does not mean we will not help families who have missing men, missing boys.
“We have families who have come forward who have missing loved ones from residential school. We’re not turning anyone away who comes forward seeking that help,” she commented.
Speaking of services the program offers, she explained, “We can gather case specific information about loved ones… We also do referrals, whether it’s for counselling, traditionally or mainstream. We can offer support in regard to seeking the answers that family members are looking for.”
Pitawanakwat said she can also assist families in filing missing person reports. She can also refer families to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG), a separate body from her program.
People can speak with Pitawanakwat by phoning 807-737-4877 or email her at email@example.com.
First Step Women’s Shelter executive director Tana Troniak commented on the vigil. “I think annually we have to keep doing this and hopefully every year we get more and more people walking with us.”
She concluded, “It’s great that Shauna spoke tonight about her program. It’s fantastic that we have that program based in Sioux Lookout.”
The Sisters in Spirit Vigil was organized by the Violence Action Awareness Committee (VAAC), whose members include The Nishnawbe-Gamik Friendship Centre, First Step Women’s Shelter, Sunset Women’s Aboriginal Circle, The Ontario Native Women’s Association, Ah-shawah-bin Support Services, and St.Andrew’s United Church.”